The right to an adequate standard of living: for ombudsman schemes

Advice and Guidance
Human Rights

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain

Under Article 11 of the ICESCR, the right to an adequate standard of living includes the provision of adequate housing, food and water. The same rights are covered in the ESC by a number of different articles.

The ICESCR is monitored by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the ESC by the Committee on Social Rights. The committees do not accept complaints from individuals.

This right is closely linked to the right to health.

Where it applies

  • housing
  • hospitals
  • care homes
  • mental health services
  • prisons
  • social security and welfare

Obligations

Housing

The minimum requirements for adequate housing under the ICESCR are:

  • security of tenure
  • adequate lighting, heating and sanitation
  • habitability
  • location from which health and education services are accessible, including the provision of adequate infrastructure
  • cultural adequacy

The CESCR has criticised the UK for failing to provide culturally adequate housing for Irish Travellers and Gypsies, particularly secure stopping sites (Concluding Observations: UK 2009).

Forced evictions are considered a violation of the right to adequate housing.

Food and water

The CESCR states (General Comment No. 12) that the right to adequate food should ‘not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with a minimum package of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients’, but implies it should be:

  • available in sufficient quality and quantity to satisfy dietary needs
  • free from adverse substances
  • culturally acceptable
  • accessible, both economically and physically

Cultural acceptability may be particularly important in institutional settings, where a duty to provide Halal, Kosher or vegetarian options should be recognised.

Similarly, General Comment No. 15 states that ‘the right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses’.

Physical accessibility is important in the care of infants, the elderly, people with mental health conditions and disabled people, who may need help eating and drinking, including through the provision of special or pureed foods. See also protection from discrimination.

Food and water should be available when it is needed, not just at the institution’s convenience and made available throughout the day and night. This includes putting it within reach of a patient or resident with a mobility impairment.

What to consider

Complaints about adequate housing

You should analyse the facts and evidence, bearing in mind the minimum obligations of the right to adequate housing.

When resources are scarce, human rights prioritise the needs of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. You should remember this for complaints about how social housing is allocated. The right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to respect for private and family life may also be relevant.

Priority groups could include older people, families with young children, disabled people and people who need rehousing following attacks or victimisation.

You may want to explore how authorities determine priority and make decisions about prioritising certain groups on housing waiting lists. Examine whether the complainant was put in the right place. To do this you may need anonymised information about others on the list.

Complaints about adequate food and water

These complaints often detail concerns about weight loss or dehydration of patients or residents in health or social care settings.

You should establish what steps the institution is taking to provide adequate food and water, including:

  • accessibility, such as providing assistance with eating and drinking for those who need it
  • availability throughout the night and day
  • an adequate choice of meals and mealtimes

You may need to investigate any discrimination associated with a particular disability or circumstance. A learning-disabled patient, for example, may need special help to choose meals, eat and drink, beyond the level of need of other patients.

Last updated: 26 Jul 2019