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Five leading human rights organisations – Just Fair, Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Watch, René Cassin and Liberty – have joined the Guarantee our Essentials campaign, a powerful call for Universal Credit to be legally required to cover a minimum that allows people to realise their rights. The level of support that the UK benefits system provides requires an urgent, independent evaluation, and increase, to ensure respect for the human rights of people in households on low incomes, in line with the UK’s human rights obligations. 

The Guarantee our Essentials campaign, coordinated by the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, calls on the government to provide, with a guarantee in law, a level of support from Universal Credit which would cover the basic requirements all people need to live in dignity. The campaign calls for an independent process to determine social security payments levels, including by consulting people receiving social security support, and to ensure that the government does not deduct sums from monthly payments to leave any person receiving benefits below a minimum level. 

If implemented, this would ensure that everyone receiving Universal Credit has a standard of living where they and can afford life’s essential costs like food, clothing, and energy, as well as to maintain their health, well-being, and dignity. Addressing these issues must be a priority for the UK government, and an independent evaluation of social security support levels is long overdue. 

The campaign currently has over 100 charities supporting it, with more than 30 leading health and care organisations joining the call last month.

What has the Essentials Guarantee got to do with human rights?

The Essentials Guarantee would, by ensuring that benefit levels are set to an acceptable level, bring the UK government more closely into line with its commitments under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1976. These rights include everyday necessities for people, including having an adequate standard of living, housing, food, education, health and social security.

That is why Just Fair, Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Watch, René Cassin and Liberty are coming together in support of the Guarantee our Essentials campaign. We are concerned that the cost-of-living crisis, persistently high inflation, and the enduring effects of austerity and the Covid-19 pandemic, have made it increasingly difficult for many people to afford essential items and services. The government’s failure to respond sufficiently with appropriate social security measures has increasingly eroded human rights protections for people in the country. The way Universal Credit currently works, and the inadequate levels of support it provides, leaves some people unable to secure their basic rights.

By joining the call for an Essentials Guarantee, we are urging the UK government to promote the human rights of people across the country. The social security system must be reformed so that it can provide people with the rights they are entitled to, helping make sure they have a dignified life and a fairer, stronger UK for all of us. 

Jess McQuail, Director of Just Fair, said:

“The people of the UK are living in an era of crises, from the rising cost of living, to Covid-19, to the brutal decade of austerity before that. For a long time, there has not been much space to breathe. It is those on the lowest income – alongside other affected groups such as disabled people, people of colour, migrants, the LGBT+ community – who are most likely to suffer when it comes to the lack of basic human rights protections. We desperately need a social security system which is human rights compliant and protects people’s right to an adequate standard of living. This would help ensure a better, fairer, stronger UK for us all.”

Jen Clark, Amnesty International UK’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Lead, said:

“The gradual unpicking of our social security system for more than ten years is forcing huge numbers of people across the country to make harsh choices about which of their family’s basic needs will go unmet today – this is unacceptable.  The Government must make it their priority to stop the damaging political decisions that are pushing people deeper into poverty and provide an essentials guarantee for Universal Credit that will protect in UK law people’s human rights so that they are able to live in safe and decent housing, put enough food on the table, and be able to afford the electricity and heating that are vital for everyday life.”

Kartik Raj, Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:

“Our research over the past five years has shown repeatedly that the UK social security system is failing on the essentials, and inadequate support leaves low-income households without enough food or unable to afford rent and susceptible to homelessness. A better future is possible. An Essentials Guarantee can deliver a long overdue evaluation of benefit levels, an adequate minimum guaranteed by law, and help create a rights-respecting social security system for the UK.”

Mia Hasenson-Gross, Executive Director at René Cassin, said:

“For the past few years, we have been campaigning for the realisation of the Right to Food in UK law. We know that people in the UK are forced to make impossible choices between essential goods and services which act as a symptom and cause of entrapment in cycles of poverty. Whilst we are appreciative of immense charitable efforts providing emergency food and heating vouchers to people in need, we also know that we must simultaneously turn to structural solutions. More of us than we ever thought are teetering on the edge of the riverbank and could find ourselves pushed into poverty. The Essentials Guarantee represents part of the work to lift those in the river onto dry land, whilst also going upstream, to rework the uneven foundations that are pushing people in. This is the work of human rights and dignity, and we are proud to sign our names.”

Ruth Ehrlich, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Liberty, said:

“Every one of us deserves to live with dignity and good health and that means being able to afford our essential costs around the food we eat, the homes we live in and the clothes we wear. But years of austerity and cuts to social welfare have left too many families without. Make no mistake, this is a human rights issue.’ 

‘It is a government’s responsibility to ensure that they are supporting people through a cost-of-living crisis and rocketing prices. An Essentials Guarantee would give people the right to an adequate standard of living and put human rights at the heart of how we support people all over the country.”

If you would like more information on social security as a human right, and our reasons for supporting the campaign, then please read this Amnesty International technical note.  

For more information on the right to social security as an international concern, read this Human Rights Watch Q&A document.

Background image by Edgar Ludert