Progress on socio-economic rights: why are we waiting?

by Marion Sandner

Published: 02 Mar 2018

Socio-economic rights are central to human survival and development. They set out what the Government must do to ensure that everyone in this country has the basic building blocks in place to be able to live a decent life in dignity. Things like having access to adequate, safe and affordable housing, to health care, to sufficient and nutritious food. They also extend to the workplace ensuring people aren’t discriminated against, have a free choice in the work they do and have decent working conditions.

In an ideal world the UK government would currently be working its way through the list of recommendations that the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights set out nearly two years ago, after reviewing the state of economic and social rights in the UK. Life would be improving for millions of people across the country. Sadly, our evidence, which we will publish in a report on Wednesday, shows that this isn’t happening.

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world we know that increasing numbers of people are relying on food banks, many families are living below the poverty line, and our social security system does not provide sufficient assistance to tackle the inadequate living standards of so many people in our society. Moreover, many people suffer from low pay and have no job security.

This is why we’ve decided to pull together a report assessing the state of socio-economic rights in Great Britain two years on. Primarily to remind the government of how much work still needs to be done to live up to its commitments, but also to highlight to the UN the lack of progress, and even regression in some areas, that we’ve seen to date.

Our report shows:

  • reforms to social security since 2010 are badly affecting children, disabled people, single parents and ethnic minorities
  • relative child poverty (after housing costs) has risen, with the use of sanctions making a bad situation worse for many people
  • low pay, underemployment, precarious self-employment and zero-hours contracts are still common practice
  • changes to legal aid mean that justice is beyond the reach of many, especially children, disabled people and ethnic minorities

The government has committed to playing a ‘leading role in protecting and advancing human rights’ once we leave the EU but, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘human rights begin in small places, close to home’. Action is needed now, not words.

To launch the report we’re bringing together, jointly with our co-hosts Just Fair, key experts who work in this area – including the Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Virginia Bras-Gomes, and Dr Phillip Lee MP from the Ministry of Justice. The event will discuss how to make tangible progress on these issues, prompting government action and the development of a clear implementation plan setting out exactly how the Committee’s recommendations are being put into place.

Socio-economic rights are about enabling people to live with dignity and giving them the opportunity to not just survive but thrive. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

Please contact Marion Sandner if you want to find out more about our report.