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On 16 March the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) published its first piece of work as part of their seventh periodic review of the UK (more information on the process here), which is called the ‘list of issues’.

The list of issues is a formal request by CESCR for more information on certain areas; either for clarification, or because there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the report the UK Government sent to CESCR in 2022. It also highlights areas where CESCR is particularly concerned about the realisation of rights in a country.

In January 2023 groups from across the UK submitted reports to CESCR to help inform their list of issues. Just Fair’s independent civil society report detailed what groups in England and Wales told us were some of the most pressing issues in relation to the realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights.

Then in early March, along with other groups, we gave evidence directly to CESCR.

CESCR took all this information, as well as evidence and reports from the UK Government and the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions and created a list of issues. Below is a summary of our analysis.  

Analysis of the list of issues

It was the first time we’ve seen the following mentioned or examined in their own right in a CESCR list of issues on the UK:

  • climate change
  • issues relating to care-experienced children and young people
  • taxation

This, we believe, is testament to the hard work that civil society groups put into the evidence they submitted for the independent report, and the oral evidence they gave to CESCR.

This list of issues was much more detailed that previous lists of issues to the UK. It’s over twice the length of the list of issues produced for the sixth periodic review in 2015, and significantly longer than the one produced in 2008 during the fifth periodic review.  This allows much more space for CESCR to ask specific questions.

There are also many requests for disaggregated data and for data specific to each region of the UK. This is a really important and a point raised in our independent report.   The information the UK Government submitted to CESCR did not include a substantive amount of disaggregated data, nor information about what is happening in the devolved nations/jurisdictions. Without disaggregated data it’s difficult for CESCR to understand what is happening on the ground in the UK, and how different groups of people are experiencing the same issues.

In this list of issues, we also saw termination of pregnancy firmly established as a component of ‘reproductive health care’. This has not always been the case, and a positive development.  In terms of access to termination in Northern Ireland, it is very important that CESCR asked about access in all jurisdictions of the UK. While many legal barriers to termination have been removed in Northern Ireland, access to services remains an issue.

What next?

There were several issues raised in our independent report which we believe are crucial to the realisation of ESCR that were not raised in the list of issues.

While this does not preclude them from featuring in the final report of CESCR following the review of the UK, it is something for civil society to remain cognisant of.

Issues not featured include:

We will consider how to raise these issues in further evidence to CESCR, and continue to discuss this process, and the issues it is highlighting, with UK and UN decision makers as part of our ongoing work in this area.

Background image by Elsa Martino