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.