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International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is one of the most important United Nations (UN) human rights treaties. It is one of the two treaties that give legal force to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the other being the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR). The UK ratified ICESCR in 1976.

ICESCR rights are crucial to enable people to live with dignity. This treaty covers important areas of public policy, such as the rights to:

  • work
  • fair and just conditions of work
  • social security
  • adequate food
  • clothing and housing
  • health, and
  • education.

Read the full text of the ICESCR.

How the ICESCR treaty cycle works

Each treaty operates on its own unique timetable. We are now in a period of follow-up activity for the ICESCR where we will be working the government and civil society organisations to try and implement the committee's concluding observations. 

Flow chart showing the various milestones in the ICESCR treaty cycle

ICESCR work by the Commission

We have produced the following reports and research as part of our ICESCR treaty monitoring activity:

  • the Commission’s updated submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (April 2016)
  • our Oral Statement at the pre-sessional working group of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (October 2015)
  • our submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on socio-economic rights in the UK (August 2015)

We have produced the following work related to this treaty:

Next steps

  • Following the concluding observations of July 2016, the Commission is implementing a programme of work to make sure that the UK and devolved Governments take concrete action to make the changes recommended by the UN. Our work includes engagement with Government, Parliament, Civil Society and other stakeholders.
  • The next State report under ICESCR is due from the UK Government by June 2021.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published its concluding observations in June 2016 and highlighted the following priority areas:

  • Any new British Bill of Rights is aimed at enhancing human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
  • A better regulatory framework to ensure companies operating in the UK fully respect, economic, social and cultural rights
  • That the government consider the impact on human rights in their international development work
  • A human rights impact assessment of the recent changes to the tax system, particularly for marginalized and disadvantaged groups.
  • Calling for free legal aid and an end to Employment Tribunal fees.
  • That the government conduct and assessment on the impact of social security reform since 2010.

UN Special Rapporteurs on Housing, Disabilities, Poverty and Food have written a joint letter to the UK Government on the human rights concerns they have with the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 (April 2016).

ICESCR is monitored by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR), a body made up of 18 independent experts drawn from states that have ratified the treaty.

Governments submit reports to this Committee every five years. These ‘State Reports’ explain the steps taken to implement the treaty and how these have affected people in the UK.  

The Committee also considers evidence from other sources. As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), the Commission submits information to this process in what is known as a ‘shadow report’.

The Committee identifies a ‘list of issues’ that they want the states to provide further information on. NHRIs and civil society can also respond to these issues.

It then examines the UK’s State Report and the responses to the list of issues, and produces its own report with recommendations for action. These are called the ‘Concluding Observations’. States are required to publish these recommendations, act on them and report on progress.

More information about this procedure can be found here.

Read the UK’s most recent State Report (2014).

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights sometimes issues general comments which explain the application of the ICESCR in particular situations. You can find these general comments on the UN website.

Last updated: 05 Dec 2017