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Join the call for our rights to become part of UK law

The cost-of-living crisis is leaving many of us hungry, cold, and destitute.

This is a human rights crisis: the UK Government is failing in its obligation to protect our rights. The crisis requires a rights-based response.

Economic, social and cultural rights must become part of our domestic law.

Who is this page for?

Anyone can take part in the #OurRightsNow campaign, but this page is specifically for civil society organisations (CSOs) to help you get involved as part of your work on issues related to the cost-of-living crisis. CSOs include charities, non-profit organisations, community groups and more.

This page aims to give CSOs the tools they need to utilise a human rights framing in their work, and to build confidence and capacity for tackling the cost-of-living crisis. On this page we explain what a human rights framing is and why it’s helpful and offer you the resources you need to get started.

THE COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS IS INCREASING INEQUALITY AND SUFFERING

Since 2021, the UK has been experiencing a cost-of-living crisis. This means that the cost of everyday essentials such as food and energy has been rising faster than the money coming into households (through wages, benefits or a combination of both). This has made it difficult for many households to afford essential items. One of the main causes of the cost-of-living crisis is inflation.

Inflation in the UK peaked at 11.1% in October 2022 and has remained at a high level throughout 2023. Since wages and benefit payments have not increase by the same amount, many people are now unable to afford the goods and services they previously could.

The Resolution Foundation has said that the cost-of-living crisis is contributing to “the deepest living standards squeeze in a century” and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 7.3 million low-income households went without essentials between November 2022 and May 2023. An estimated 4 million were going hungry by June 2023. As with austerity measures and the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis is having a disproportionate impact on some individuals and groups.

this is a human rights issue

The UK has signed up to an international agreement called The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). ICESCR sets out that we all have certain human rights, like the right to adequate food and housing, the right to health, the right to social security, and the right to education. By signing up to this agreement, the UK Government has a legal obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil these rights. 

As a result of the cost-of-living crisis, on top of the existing effects of austerity and Covid-19, people’s economic, social, and cultural rights are not being respected, protected or fulfilled. The fact that this is a crisis does not negate the UK Government’s obligations – in fact, it makes them even more important.

But even though the UK Government has signed up to ICESCR and must ensure these rights are fulfilled, because economic, social, and cultural rights are not part of domestic law here in the UK people cannot go to court to enforce their rights.

  • These rights are objective standards that must be met. We wouldn’t have to speculate whether the UK Government will act to ensure people have enough to eat, adequate housing, or access to any of our other rights: we believe they would have to.
  • They would be directly enforceable by each of us. As a last resort, if the UK Government were failing to meet these objective standards, then the courts would be obliged to ensure that it does. This would represent a genuine shift of power to the people.
  • They would improve democracy and deter bad policy. The biggest effect would not be in the court room, but in Parliament and other law-making arenas such local government. Knowing that living standards must be met would encourage better policy making and less opportunistic policy designed to win in the ballot box. That would be better for all of us.

BUT THE UK CAN BE BETTER

To respond to this, we are:

  • supporting CSOs and others to hold the UK Government and public authorities to account on their existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights AND
  • calling for economic, social, and cultural rights to become part of UK domestic law.

If these rights were part of UK domestic law, we believe the UK Government would have to act to protect people from the effects of the cost-of-living crisis.

Making these rights part of our domestic law would help us build a more equal and just UK. The benefit cap and the two-child limit would be unlawful at current levels. There could be no question of cuts to our already-low levels of social security. The minimum wage would have to be a genuine living wage. Had these rights been in our domestic law in the UK, they would have helped address many of the crises we have seen in recent years – austerity, Covid-19, and the climate emergency.

It is time that we took decisive action for the future. Enshrining our economic, social, and cultural rights into law means creating real and legally enforceable protections so people are protected from any future crisis.

wHAT CAN YOU DO?

Using a human rights framing to tackle the cost-of-living crisis can strengthen your work, at the same time as supporting the long-term aim of making economic, social and cultural rights part of domestic law in the UK.

We offer free, easy to use resources to help you get started.

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The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protects rights such as housing, health and education, those essential conditions needed to live a life of dignity and freedom.

Useful resources

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For more information on our campaigns please contact [email protected]