UN report, human rights and healing the UK

By Savi Hensman
June 30, 2016

A United Nations report has revealed widespread human rights violations in the UK. A culture in which major violations are taken for granted may help to explain the sharp social divisions which have become clear over Brexit.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ concluding observations in a report on the UK, released in late June 2016, make for disturbing reading. They reveal a society where lack of basic respect for, and decency towards, those who are poor and/or in minorities is now commonplace.

Some of the evidence has also been published, including from voluntary organisations working with those most affected.

A few positive measures over the past few years are recognised, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015. But the overall picture is bleak. Legal remedies are inadequate – and plans to repeal the Human Rights Act may make matters worse.

International aid is sometimes used to finance human rights violations. At home, tax cuts and loopholes for wealthy individuals and companies have left less money to support those who are disadvantaged and marginalised. Austerity measures have hit disabled people, women and children particularly hard.

Legal aid cuts have restricted access to justice in areas such as employment, housing, education and benefits.

Asylum-seekers have been barred from working and been expected to live on a daily allowance that does not meet their needs.

Young and disabled people and ethnic minorities are especially likely to be unemployed. Those in paid work are often in precarious jobs, including temporary employment or zero-hour contracts. Migrant workers face even worse working conditions than average. Attacks on trade union rights have further hit workers.

Social security changes, including the bedroom tax, mean that many women, children, disabled people and low-income families do not get enough to meet their needs.

Though there is a national strategy on gender-based violence, disabled women and girls are not adequately covered.

In general, there has been a failure to tackle poverty – and removing child poverty targets has made matters worse.

Many live in inadequate accommodation, in part because there is not enough social housing and often unaffordable private rents. There are not enough sites for Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities. Homelessness has risen, affecting mostly single persons, families with children, victims of domestic violence, disabled people and asylum-seekers.

There have been rising levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Migrants, asylum-seekers and Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities cannot always access the healthcare they need. Mental health services are under-resourced, as is social care for older people.

Inequalities in education persist, especially for low-income families and some ethnic and religious minorities.

The report makes detailed recommendations on how these injustices can be set right. Yet the government is unlikely to act unless there is greater pressure from within the UK and there is a risk that matters may become even worse.

Stark social divisions and gaps in understanding have become apparent during the debate over whether the UK should leave the European Union and after the result was announced.

A society has been created in which certain ‘types’ of people’s humanity has been routinely undervalued. Many have been left insecure, in some cases lacking safety, food or shelter.

This may have embittered some and deepened prejudices, especially in the light of a stream of propaganda from various politicians and media outlets trying to justify such abuses.

Yet a drive for human rights for all has the potential to bring together some of those who feel outsiders in todays’s UK. This may mean confronting austerity and combating discrimination, rather than turning on others in even worse situations. Taking on powerful institutions rather than vulnerable minorities can seem daunting but is ultimately more fruitful.

Faith and belief-based groups and other people of goodwill may have an important part to play in helping to share information and understanding and seeking change.

*The UN's observations can be found here


© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/2261

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.