Ten things you won’t hear about while the press navel-gazes about Leveson and regulation

News keeps happening, some of it quite important.

 

1. The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced emergency legislation to "protect the national economy" from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished. The so-called “Poundland” ruling would potentially entitle thousands of people to financial rebates after the court of appeal declared that almost all of the government's "work-for-your-benefit" employment schemes were unlawful. The legislation is will come before the Commons tomorrow as the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill.

2. Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, the Steubenville high school football players, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old after a party in August last year. It’s become a national story in the US – a CNN reporter was accused of being a “rape apologist”

3.  The Public Accounts Committee have declared HMRC’s handling of taxpayers’ calls has been "unambitious and woefully inadequate”. HMRC received 79 million calls in 2011-12, but 20 million of these calls were not answered. On top of that, just last week HMRC announced it was to close all of its 281 enquiry centres in 2014. 

4. The inquest into the death in prison of a man convicted of stealing a gingerbread man during the riots in 2011 opens today. He died in Wandsworth prison in August 2011. He had a history of mental illness and physical problems, which his foster family say were not addressed by the prison.

5. BP is taking legal action to limit the compensation it has to pay to people affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The company says some of the claims being paid are "fictitious" and "absurd".

6. David Bowie is number one again, for the first time in twenty years.

7. Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis has been banned from playing for the national team for life after he made what's been called a Nazi salute after scoring the winning goal during a match on Saturday.

8. Another gang rape has taken place in India – five men have been arrested and two more suspects are wanted after a Swiss woman was attacked while camping with her husband in a forest on a cycling holiday.

9. There are fears that once the French withdraw from Mali next month, the remaining African forces wouldn’t be able to cope with a resurgent terror threat from al-Qaeda.

10. We’re not going to get spring until after Easter, apparently. What?

 

A navel to gaze upon. This one belongs to Rihanna. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's fight against burning injustice can start with the UN's anti-austerity treaty

The UK urgently needs to make sure social rights are protected. 

Fifty years ago this month the United Nations presciently adopted a treaty creating legal safety nets for vulnerable communities facing the effects of austerity in wealthier democracies. 

Although this treaty applies to all countries, rich and poor, in prosperity or austerity, this anniversary provides a timely reminder that the treaty has much to offer both those who are just managing and those who are unable to manage.

Admittedly the treaty's title does not trip easily off the tongue - it is called the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, with protests against globalization expressed in the UK with Brexit, in America with Donald Trump and most recently in Italy and France, the Covenant, although international, places limits on globalisation, because it places vulnerability and community at its centre. 

The rights protected by the Covenant include the right to payment for work at a level which provides a "decent living for themselves and their families", the right of everyone to adequate food and housing and the right to the "continuous improvement of living conditions". There are also provisions, which oblige the government to make higher education progressively free, and a right to the highest attainment of health. 

The International Covenant is legally binding on the United Kingdom but the Covenant has been deprioritised by successive governments of all political persuasions. This is for a number of reasons, including a lack of knowledge about courts around the world which have dealt with these rights. 

Successive British governments have assumed that social justice rights are incapable of being protected by courts. In fact, this stems from a failure to look at how an increasing number of modern democracies, including most of Latin America, South Africa and some European states, effectively protect rights such as the highest standard of health and adequate housing. 

Many modern democracies regard social justice rights as reinforcing democracy and an essential component of the rule of law. It is no coincidence that this failure to keep up with social justice developments overseas has left those vulnerable and socially immobile without a legal remedy. 

Many of the rights in a sister Covenant, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are now reflected in UK law, such as the right to freedom of expression and belief. But there is, despite the NHS, no right to the highest attainable standard of health. This prompts the question: Why have the Prime Minister, the Labour and Liberal parties not called for the Covenant’s rights to be brought back home? This question is particularly pertinent now as the Prime Minister in her inaugural speech stated that her goal was to fight "against the burning injustice that if you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others".

The only attention paid by governments has been to report as required by the Covenant on how the UK has implemented the treaty, and then to consider the recommendations of the United Nations Committee overseeing the Covenant. This, however, does not provide a remedy for those receiving the half a million emergency food parcels that the Trussell Trust said that it distributed between April and September. 

Strategically, the UK needs to adopt a two-pronged policy. The first step is a simple and free international remedy, which 22 countries allow their citizens to use. The UK ought to ratify the International Protocol to the Covenant, which allows people to petition the UN Committee. As the system does not involve costs, there is no need for the government to provide legal aid. The advantage of this first step is that it would allow a decision to be reached as to whether for example, the UK government is fulfilling its duty to provide adequate nutrition to specific individuals by relying to such an extent on food banks.

Secondly, as Brexit means removing those in the UK from the protection of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which enshrines some social justice rights, the UK urgently needs to ensure that social rights are protected. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights expressly protects human dignity, which it states is inviolable and which, as a specific right, is not found in the Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Charter also protects European dimensions of the rights of older people to live a life of dignity and independence, and a right of access to preventive health care, both of which are essential. It is not clear from the government’s Brexit plans so far that these rights will be continued.  A Bill of Rights, which is Human Rights Act Plus, however, would provide such an opportunity.

It may be tempting to argue that this is not the time to consider additional rights, and that rather than seek to expand human rights protection, all energies should be harnessed to defend the Human Rights Act. However, although the rights in the Human Rights Act are constitutionally essential, it was never designed to guard against social immobility or the wealth gap. The raison d’etre of human rights is that all rights are indivisible and equal and the truth is despite the despite the Act being called ‘human rights’, many essential human rights are missing. After fifty years it is time for the UK to reassess the potential of the International Covenant.

Professor Geraldine Van Bueren QC is Professor of International Human Rights Law, Queen Mary, London and Visiting Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford.