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We submitted evidence to a major new inquiry into prevention by the Health and Social Care Committee, and the Committee has since shown encouraging signs of taking a holistic approach to health and social care. 

Our evidence focused on encouraging the Committee to consider that if economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) were brought into domestic legislation across the UK, they could help with prevention in health and social care.   We believe the holistic approach taken by the Committee illustrates the interdependency of the right to health with other rights such as to adequate food, housing, the rights to both education and equality. 

The importance of prevention

Prevention is a key component of the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – ICESCR).

Its importance is mainstreamed throughout General Comment number 14 (2000) which gives greater detail on what the right to healthcare entails, “The Committee… reaffirms the importance of an integrated approach, combining elements of preventive, curative and rehabilitative health treatment.”

Without a holistic approach to healthcare, we cannot hope to attain the best possible outcomes for all.

Our submission

In our submission, we encouraged the Committee to consider the importance of reducing inequalities, and so are pleased that ‘health inequalities’ will be a key workstream.

We also urged the Committee to consider the impact of the following regarding prevention in health and social care:

  • domestic implementation of our ESCR (including for example health, housing, social security and just and favourable conditions of work).
  • the commencement of Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 (the ‘Socio-economic Duty’).

Bringing rights home

We highlighted that if our ESCR were brought into domestic legislation, and became legally enforceable across the UK, they could help with prevention in health and social care in three main, interrelated ways:

  1. Better decisions: legally enforceable ESCR would mainstream human rights into the decision-making processes of public authorities, like the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England, to ensure compliance with these rights so people in greatest need of support to realise their rights are prioritised.
  2. Better laws: if lawmakers had to actively consider people’s ESCR when making decisions that impact people’s health, this ‘pre-legislative scrutiny’ could highlight those at particular risk and ensure that mitigations are built in.
  3. Better accountability: as a matter of last resort, positively framed ESCRs could provide people experiencing unequal access to their rights with a means for redress through legal action in domestic courts.

An area that would benefit from the Committee’s scrutiny – the Socio-economic Duty

We reminded the Committee that in Great Britain the Socio-economic Duty contained in Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 could be a powerful lever to address the structural causes of material inequalities and their negative effects on human rights and wellbeing, including relating to  health and social care.  

We look forward to continuing to engage with the Committee as they continue this important work.