By Koldo Casla and Anya Bonner

Last November, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, visited Newcastle and North Shields as part of his mission to investigate the causes and consequences of poverty in the UK.

He met with the Newcastle City Council Leader and Deputy Leader, Jobcentre staff, volunteers and users of the West End Foodbank and Citizens Advice in the City Library, researchers at Newcastle University, and members of Cedarwood community development trust.

Alston talked to hundreds of people up and down the country: lone parents (90% of whom are women) who have fared the worst from recent dramatic cuts to the social security system; people with disabilities struggling to find employment; people juggling multiple jobs yet barely managing to afford the basics to secure an adequate standard of living for them and their loved ones.

Philip Alston talking to a group of people

(The Special Rapporteur hears from people affected by poverty in Newcastle – © Bassam Khawaja 2018)

At the end of his mission, Alston presented a damning report about the impact of so-called ‘welfare reforms’ and public spending cuts on people’s lives:

“The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so.”

Alston’s visit and his conclusions and recommendations were widely covered in the media, so the government could not sweep the report under the carpet. They had to respond.

The Special Rapporteur captured the painful unfairness of our society, one of the wealthiest economies in the world. But this UN mission did more than that. It also bore witness of the tireless commitment of volunteers and grassroots campaigners working together to build communities we can all be proud of.

We have the UN’s report. Now what?

We believe it is time for a Social Rights Alliance starting right here in the North East.

Learning from insightful examples of community-led monitoring and campaigning for social rights from Belfast to Buenos Aires, from Cork to Nairobi, we can use Alston’s report as a powerful lever to hold public authorities to account and to urge them to change course at once.

Alston’s mission proved that there is an appetite to explore a human rights-based approach to social justice. The UN envoy has been listening; now it’s time for us to make the change happen.

We are having inspirational conversations with local organisations, community groups, charities and individuals who have expressed an interest in using human rights for social justice. The Social Rights Alliance will give an opportunity to build a regional network to learn from each other and identify issues where we can effect change together. We will have some workshops and resources soon (watch this space!), and we are also working with local authorities to pass motions in support of a human rights and equality-based social security system.

We want to connect people and groups in the North East to build an open, fair and more equal society.

If you are reading this, the chances are that you are already doing some amazing work to end homelessness and food poverty or to reduce inequalities.

Do you believe that everyone is entitled to good education, adequate housing, public healthcare, quality food, strong social security and a decent standard of living?

Do you agree that public authorities must ensure these rights for everyone without discrimination?

Are you committed to making social rights real for everyone?

If the answer is yes, then we only have one final question for you: Do you want to do this together?

How can I get involved?

Get in touch with our North East community organiser Anya Bonner at anya.bonner@justfair.org.uk.

Follow us on Twitter at @JustFair_NE.

Just Fair is a human rights NGO that monitors and campaigns for social rights in the UK. You can find out more at justfair.org.uk.

This blog first appeared on the VONNE website.

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