Each year Just Fair attends virtually attends the annual meeting between the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) and civil society across the world, organised by Global Initiative.
This particular meeting doesn’t focus on any specific country, but rather is designed primarily as an opportunity for civil society to ask questions of UNCESCR and propose suggestions about their work.
This year our message was simple: the cost-of-living crisis is a human rights crisis that is being felt unequally in our society and we need UNCESCR to help us to hold governments across the world to account for their failure to act.
The era of crises
We live in an era of global crises. The financial crisis of the 2000s, which led to countries across the world adopting austerity policies, the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis have deeply impacted how people across the world realise their economic, social and cultural rights. These crises have not been experienced equally. Particular groups continue to feel the sharpest effects of each crisis, those living in poverty, older people, children, people of colour, migrants, and disabled people.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission in their report to UNCESCR has also expressed concern over the satisfaction of some minimum core obligations (the minimum essential levels of a right). In particular, high levels of food insecurity and homelessness in Scotland. This is deeply concerning in a country as wealthy as the UK.
These crises are human rights crises.
Human rights checklist
We thanked UNCESCR for the useful intervention they made during the austerity years, in particular the letter by the then Chairperson of UNCESCR to States Parties on 16 May 2012. This communication laid out an authoritative and clear interpretation of State obligations with regards to measures taken during times of economic and financial crisis, to ensure that human rights are still being respected.
That is that a measure must:
1. Be temporary, covering only the period of crisis.
2. Be necessary and proportionate
3. Not be discriminatory and comprise all possible measures, including tax measures, to mitigate inequalities ensure that the rights of the disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups are not disproportionately affected.
4. Identify the minimum core content of rights and ensure the protection of this core content at all times
We have used these guidelines in our own ‘human rights checklist’.
A failure to act
In the context of the current crisis, we asked UNCESCR for more.
To date, we are unaware of any statement directly focused on the cost-of-living crisis issued by any of the UN treaty bodies. We asked UNCESCR for a statement or action tied to the cost-of-living crisis to allow us to better hold the UK and other governments to ICESCR to account. In particular, we echoed Professor Aoife Nolan’s recent paper on ‘Human rights and the cost-of-living crisis’ in noting that in situations of inflation, a rollback of rights is frequently caused by omission, that is by a failure of duty bearers (such as the UK Government) to act.
We asked UNCESCR not only to make a statement on the cost-of-living crisis but consider specifically addressing situations in which denial or infringement of economic, social and cultural rights is caused by a lack of positive action by a governments.
Image by Olga Mrozek for OBI x Fine Acts