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The UN declares the UK’s austerity policies in breach of international human rights obligations

The UN are “seriously concerned” by the state of inequality in the UK.

In a damning new report, the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has confirmed that the UK government’s austerity measures and social security reform are in breach of their obligations to human rights.

Drawing on evidence from Just Fair, the report considers a number of factors in its decision, including increased reliance on foodbanks, unemployment rates, the housing crisis, mental health care, and discrimination against migrants. The committee reminds the government of their obligations and calls upon them to make changes.

The UN committee said it was “seriously concerned” about “the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures” are having on disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups.

It also emphasised problems with welfare reform, saying it was “deeply concerned” about “the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social benefits”, including the reduction of the household benefit cap, the four-year freeze on certain benefits and the reduction in child tax credits. It added that these changes adversely affect “women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children”.

It said that these issues and others meant the UK government are failing “to meet their obligation to mobilize the maximum available resources for the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights”.

The report also expressed concerns over:

  • Unemployment, which, despite a small rise in the employment rate, continues to disproportionately affect people with disabilities, young people and people belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities.
  • The high incidence of part-time work, precarious self-employment, temporary employment and the use of zero hour contracts.
  • The “persistent discrimination” against migrant workers.
  • The challenges faced by asylum seekers due to restrictions in accessing employment and the insufficient level of support provided through the daily allowance.
  • The national minimum wage, which “is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living in the State party, particularly in London, and does not apply for workers under the age of 25”.
  • Increases in the inheritance tax limit and value added tax, and reductions to corporation tax, in encouraging “persistent social inequality”.
  • The new Trade Union Act (2016), which limits the right of workers to undertake industrial action.
  • Sanctions in relation to benefit fraud and the absence of due process and access to justice for those affected by the use of sanctions.
  • The limited availability and high costs of childcare and the lack of involvement of men in childcare responsibilities.
  • Persistent underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors.
  • Violence against women with disabilities.
  • The increased risk of poverty for people with disabilities, people belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities, single-parent families and families with children.
  • The persistent critical situation in terms of availability, affordability and accessibility of adequate housing (in part as a result of cuts in state benefits), the lack of social housing, and lack of adequate access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, for Travellers.
  • Reforms to the legal aid system and the introduction of employment tribunal fees, and the resulting restriction of access to justice, in areas including employment, housing, education and social welfare benefits.
  • The significant rise in homelessness.
  • The country-wide reliance on foodbanks.
  • Discrimination in accessing health care services against refugees, asylum-seekers, refused asylum-seekers and Travellers.
  • The lack of adequate resources provided to mental health services.
  • Persistent serious shortcomings in the care and treatment of older persons, including those with dementia.
  • Significant inequalities in educational attainment, especially for children belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities and children from low-income families which has the effect of limiting social mobility.
  • Increasing university fees, which affect the equal access to higher education.
  • Lack of corporate regulation.
  • The way international development funds are used overseas.
  • The announced plan of replacing the Human Rights Act of 1998 by a new British Bill of Rights.
  • The criminalisation of termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.
  • The lack of effective measures adopted by the State party to promote the use of Irish Language in Northern Ireland.
  • The lack of involvement and participation of Northern Ireland in this review process, and the limited information available on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.