The situation in the UK is deteriorating, with a UK Government seemingly ignoring inequality and suffering. However, there are ways to shine a spotlight on their human rights record.
For a decade and a half, civil society organisations have been fighting an uphill battle as the UK has lurched from one crisis to the next. The scale of the problem now means that far too many organisations spend all their energy trying to tackle issues such as rising poverty, falling wages, a collapsing benefits system, inadequate housing, deteriorating working conditions, and unequal access to healthcare and education. Many groups have nothing left in the tank when it comes to pushing for positive change. Attempting to challenge injustice at home has become increasingly difficult with the UK Government working to shut down the few avenues for achieving change.
Last week, we were in Geneva for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (UN CESCR) review of the UK. Every five years or so, the UN CESCR reviews the progress of the UK and how well people’s economic, social and cultural rights are being upheld. The resulting report is a key tool we, as civil society, can use to better hold the UK Government to account when it fails to respect, protect, and fulfil these rights.
We took with us our independent civil society report – which was compiled with evidence from 70+ organisations across England and Wales, and one clear message: the UK is in a dire state and quickly becoming an international outlier in human rights.
We spoke directly to member of UN CESCR, who had gathered from countries across the world, and we told them:
- The successive shockwaves of austerity, Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have left people in England and Wales with deepening levels of inequality.
- These crises are disproportionately impacting specific groups of people.
- In the UK we are experiencing a concerted effort by the current UK Government to ‘rollback’ our rights. Repeated attempts to amend, weaken and now repeal our Human Rights Act, and a host of legislation which strike at the very heart of the universal nature of human rights have caused deep concern across civil society.
- When the UK Government does seemingly offer solutions, they are limited and often only trap people in further cycles of rights violations.
- The UK Government has been acting as a restraint on positive actions to better realise people’s rights in our devolved nations and jurisdictions.
- The UK Government’s focus on individual responsibility, and attempts to deflect state responsibility, create a culture where people blame themselves for the violations of their rights which they experience.
Next week, this Committee of experts is completing the first phase of its review and releasing its ‘list of issues’. The list of issues is a formal request by the Committee for more information on certain areas; either for clarification, or because there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the report the UK Government sent to the Committee last year. In the coming weeks we’ll be undertaking a detailed analysis of this, so watch this space!
This will be the first crucial step in this review process, which will culminate in the UK sitting down in front of the Committee in Geneva next year where they will have to respond to these issues and make clear what steps they will take to remedy them.
Reviews from international human rights bodies like this are important advocacy tools for civil society in the UK. It is an additional way to advocate for the UK Government to think more about realising people’s basic human rights. With the current situation as dire as it is, we need to make sure we use every possible tool to fight for a fairer and more just society.