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“The UK and Welsh governments, as appropriate, should give legal effect to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the six other ratified human rights treaties, in domestic law to ensure access to enforceable rights.”

This is one of the key recommendations included in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC)[i] submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) which was published earlier this month.

In their report the EHRC (the National Human Rights Institution for Great Britain) also:

  • calls for enactment of the Socio-economic Duty
  • highlights the ways particular groups in our society experience unequal realisation of their rights
  • clearly sets out which areas are the responsibility of the UK Government, and which are the responsibility of the Welsh Government

All of these were issues that were included in the independent report we submitted to CESCR on behalf of civil society in England and Wales.

Enforceable rights

The strong recommendation to incorporate economic, social and cultural rights into domestic law could not be timelier as the cost-of-living crisis is disproportionately experienced by the same people who experienced the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the decade of austerity (namely those living in poverty, older people, children, people of colour, migrants, women, and disabled people). The call builds upon and goes further than recommendations the EHRC made to CESCR in 2015 and 2016.

We agree, and believe that domestic incorporation of the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)[ii] is the long-term solution that this country needs.

A fairness framework – the Socio-economic Duty

The EHRC highlights a key lever the UK Government could use to build greater equality in England right now – the commencement of the Socio-economic Duty.

Already in force in Scotland, Wales, and in local authorities across England, the commencement of this Duty would require public bodies to consider how their strategic decisions could increase or decrease inequality that results from socio-economic disadvantage.

The disproportionate impact of rights violations

The EHRC submission helps the members of CESCR properly understand where rights are not being met in the UK – they record where inequality is experienced in terms of the realisation of rights, and which groups are experiencing the sharpest end of these inequalities.[iii] This is crucial because it gives a clear picture to the Committee about exactly who is experiencing the disproportionate impact of rights violations, and where government efforts should be focused.  

The devolved context – providing exactness

The EHRC makes clear throughout their report which government (UK or Welsh) is responsible for each issue their submission covers.[iv] Because members of CESCR are from countries across the world (though they work in an independent capacity), they will not necessarily understand the exact division of powers between the UK Government and the devolved nations/jurisdictions. Making responsibility clear is important to ensure the CESCR members address the right comments to the right government.

A note for the reader – Scotland and Northern Ireland

This blog has focused on the EHRC’s report, because the geographical remit most closely aligned to that of our independent report. However Northern Ireland and Scotland both have their own National Human Rights Institutions, check out their CESCR submissions below:

Final thought

Our independent report and the EHRC report diverge in terms of the specific areas they cover in relation to the realisation of individual rights, so it is worth reading both. However, that both reports have focused on enforceable rights, the Socio-economic Duty, unequal rights realisation and the responsibilities of each government, illustrates just how crucial these issues are.

 

[i] The Equality and Human Rights Commission is Great Britain’s national equality and human rights body. It is a statutory non-departmental public body established by the Equality Act 2006.

[ii] Including work, education, health, housing, food and social security.

[iii] See for example in relation to:

  • Disproportionate number of minority ethic women and also 16-24 year olds on zero-hours contracts (page 7).
  • Disproportionate impact on poverty on certain minority ethnic groups – particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups – due to factors including being more likely to be in lower-paid employment and live in single-earner households (page 10).
  • Particular difficulties face by children in poverty who are part of families with no recourse to public funds (page 10).
  • Certain ethnic minorities in England, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi people, are more likely than White British people to live in the most deprived neighbourhoods and overcrowded households (page 12).
  • The impact of online and telephone healthcare services on digitally-excluded people, including those in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups, older people and some disabled people (page 19).
  • Extremely lengthy waiting times for gender identity services (page 20).

[iv] See for example at page 17, “There have been welcome commitments to reform the social care policy framework in Wales, including to strengthen the integration of health and social care, though the Welsh Government should also ensure that the social care workforce is given sufficient support.”

 

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