Britain’s human rights record reviewed ahead of UN examination

Published: 27 Apr 2022

Britain must relieve the pressures on its education, health and social care systems following the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s human rights watchdog says in a report to the UN today.

A widening educational attainment gap for children on free school meals and concerns about safety in the adult social care sector are among the issues raised across 11 policy areas.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has made almost 30 recommendations to the UK and Welsh governments as part of its formal human rights monitoring role. This is carried out to help the UN Human Rights Council assess a country’s compliance with international obligations under the Universal Periodic Review process.

The EHRC notes the severe pressures caused by Covid-19 on public services in England and Wales – which were already under strain before the pandemic.

It urges action to mitigate learning loss for children, to enshrine in law the right to independent living for disabled people, and to improve employment protections, such as better access to sick pay, for people in insecure work.

The EHRC reiterates its opposition to any reform of the 1998 Human Rights Act that reduces protections or access to justice. And its report also calls for an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old, action to address the disproportionate number of people from ethnic minorities held in prisons and youth custody, and a statutory time limit to be introduced for immigration detention.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the EHRC, said:

“It is vital that Britain sets a leading example in meeting international human rights standards. Our job at the EHRC is to make sure that the UK and Welsh governments do that.

“Our review of the past five years shows the profound impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on human rights in Britain. We are calling on governments to step up efforts to heal the damage that Covid-19 has caused to education, health and social care, and other sectors. 

“We also call on them to do more to promote a society that values dignity and respect for everyone, and to ensure that all groups are treated fairly by our laws and institutions.”

The EHRC’s 29 recommendations include:

  • Poverty. The report calls on the government to ‘examine the factors behind the higher poverty levels among groups at risk, such as certain ethnic minorities and children, including changes to social security that disproportionately affect some protected characteristic groups, and develop strategies to address them’.
  • Health and social care. Action must be taken to ensure access to high-quality mental health services and to address the 2,000 people with learning disabilities and autism still detained in secure hospitals.
  • Education. Governments must increase efforts to tackle gaps in educational attainment across protected characteristic groups and collect robust data on the impact of the pandemic on loss of learning.
  • Work. The report welcomes progress in narrowing gender and ethnicity pay gaps. But better employment protections should be given to those in insecure jobs, many of whom had little choice but to carry on working through the pandemic even when unwell.
  • Policing and criminal justice. Governments must ensure that stop-and-search powers are used effectively and proportionately, and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old, in line with international standards.
  • Immigration. Governments must introduce a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, in line with other countries, and expand community-based alternatives to ensure detention is used only as a last resort.

Notes to editors

  • The EHRC’s Universal Periodic Review report is available to download. It will be used to inform the UK’s upcoming examination by the UN, which will take place in November.
  • The EHRC’s Human Rights Tracker provides an overview of the UK and Welsh government progress in meeting its international human rights obligations since the last round of UN examinations in [2018].

Press contact details

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