How is the UK doing around making sure that everyone has the basics that they need to live well?
Many years ago, the UK signed up to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – this is all about things like the right to food, to housing, to social security and to education. Then every 5 years, a UN Committee (called CESCR) reviews how well the UK is doing on making these rights real.
The UN Committee has started gathering evidence to inform their next review of the UK. So far, back in May 2022, the UK Government submitted its state party report to the Committee on how well they think they have done.
And now civil society organisations have had their say too. Civil society organisations from across the UK have submitted further reports to the UN Committee about how they believe the UK Government has been, or could look to better achieve our economic, social, and cultural rights. They have had a chance to talk about the lived experience of people living in poverty and disadvantage, and to hold the Government to account on what more needs done.
Human Rights Consortium Scotland has submitted a joint report on behalf of a number of civil society organisations in Scotland to the UN Committee – these organisations are:
- The Poverty Alliance
- Who Cares? Scotland
- Inclusion Scotland
- Clan Childlaw
- The ALLIANCE
- Article 12
- The Food Train
- Close the Gap
- Scottish Commission for Learning Disability (SCLD)
- Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS)
- Community Policy Forum
- Alcohol Focus Scotland
- United Nations Association Scotland
- UN House Scotland
The report spans 15 pages and can be read in full below. Although the UN Committee is reviewing the UK Government, a lot of the rights specific to ICESCR are devolved to the Scottish Government. This means that our report focused more on key questions of the Scottish Government.
Within the report, the key questions we asked the UN Committee to ask the Scottish Government were:
1. Will the Scottish Government prioritise a re-evaluation of residency requirements for higher education?
2. Will the Scottish Government commit to ending formal and informal exclusion of care experienced children from schools, in addition to committing to better consistency in review of how many care-experienced children and young people are receiving an adequate and stable education?
3. Will the Scottish Government ensure that there is a national policy on racist incident reporting in schools to ensure that there are consistent policies on prevention, action, monitoring, assessment, evaluation, staff training and enforcement to effectively challenge institutional racism and support minority ethnic children in Scotland’s schools?
4. Will the Scottish Government prioritise progressing amendments to the UNCRC Incorporation Bill so that it can be commenced as soon as possible?
5. Will the Scottish Government commit to training on malnutrition, unintentional weight loss and health communication about household food insecurity to be embedded into basic training for all health and social care professionals?
6. Will the Scottish Government ensure that the Scottish Welfare Fund adopts a more consistent approach and offers more than singular payments for recipients?
7. Will the Scottish Government ensure more action to ensure groups more likely to face infringement on their right to adequate standard of living have additional means of support?
8. Will the Scottish Government deliver an immediate strategy for how they plan to deliver the first half of 110,000 affordable homes over the course of the next five years?
9. Will the Scottish Government finalise their Plan for Ending the Need for Food Banks and implement it as soon as possible?
10.What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that there is equal protection for people’s right to life, including during public health emergencies?
11.To ask the Scottish Government what steps they are taking to ensure that everyone who needs mental health services can access them, and to improve the collection and publication of disaggregated, intersectional data related to mental health?
12. To ask what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure unequal access to healthcare services is addressed?
13.Will the Scottish Government take steps to ensure that targeted services are developed to support Care Experienced people access healthcare more readily?
14.Will the Scottish Government address the lack of gender identity-related services in Scotland?
15.Will the Scottish Government commit to a UNCRPD-compliant national mental health law framework?
16.Will the Scottish Government explore reasons for the increase in mental health detention and ensure that proper safeguards are operating well?
17.What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that no person is living in hospital without clinical need?
18.Will the Scottish Government ensure collaboration between healthcare and social care to improve recognition and timely treatment of important health issues?
19.Will the Scottish Government put the right to a healthy environment with substantive and procedural elements into Scots law by 2025, which will ensure full compliance with the Aarhus Convention?
20.Will the Scottish Government commit to taking all the steps necessary to ensure that people have the tools to access legal aid both geographically and easily when they need it to access justice?
21.Will the Scottish Government ensure universal access to independent advocacy services through implementation of access in the upcoming National Care Service?
22.Will the Scottish Government commit to all the resources and capacity needed to deliver a strong Human Rights Incorporation Bill, and to publish an implementation action plan in 2023?
Within the report, the key questions we asked the UN Committee to ask the UK Government were:
1. Will the UK Government abolish zero-hour contracts nation-wide?
2. Will the UK Government lift the ban and give people seeking asylum and refugees the right to work in the UK?
3. Will the UK Government commit to incorporating the UNCRC into UK law?
4. Will the UK Government commit to scrapping the benefit cap and two-child limit?
5. Will the UK Government scrap their plans for a Bill of Rights and keep the Human Rights Act?
6. Will the UK Government commit to directly incorporating ICESCR, CEDAW, UNCRPD and ICERD into UK law?
Within the report, the key questions we asked the UN Committee to ask both the Scottish and UK Governments were:
1. How are the UK and Scottish governments working to ensure the gender pay gap closes?
2. How will the UK and Scottish governments work to improve employment rates amongst the Black and ethnic minority community?
3. What are the UK and Scottish governments doing to address institutional and organisational racism in the workplace?
4. Will the UK and Scottish Governments commit to increasing social security in line with inflation?
5. Will both the UK and Scottish Governments remove sanctions from social security?
6. Will both the UK and Scottish Governments commit to fundamental training of a human-rights based approach for staff members dealing with claimants of social security so that claimants are treated with dignity and in a human-rights based manner?
7. To ask both the UK and Scottish governments what actions took place before or during the use of COVID-19 emergency powers to ensure human rights were considered?
8. Will the UK and Scottish Governments work to ensure that human-rights based approaches are ingrained within primary training of healthcare professionals and institutions so that patients are treated with dignity?
Here’s what to expect next in the Review Cycle:
- The Pre-Sessional Working Group (PSWG) will take place from 6 – 10 March 2023. This is when a number of members of the Committee meet in Geneva to develop a “list of issues” they want more information on from the UK Government.
- The UK Government is then given time to respond to that list of issues by sending a written report into the Committee.
- Following this, civil society will once again be given time to submit an updated report on the UK Government.
- At this point, we will once again go out to our members to ask for updated data, information and policy requests of the UK and Scottish Governments to demand further change.
- We do not have an exact timeframe for the Review, but we believe this is most likely to take place in Summer 2024. The Review is when this UN Committee examines all the evidence from the UK Government, civil society, and other sources. It then asks questions of the UK Government in Geneva and civil society is invited to give oral evidence.
- Finally, the UN Committee gives its concluding observations and recommendations about a month after the Review. The UK Government then decides on which recommendations to take on board. The previous Review took place in 2016, recommendations can be read here.
We realise this process is long and often hard to understand. However, through the upcoming Scottish Government Human Rights Incorporation Bill, Scotland will seek to have ICESCR in Scots law. This will mean that we will be able to hold the government to account for progressively realising our economic, social and cultural rights here at home.
It is important for civil society to engage with the Review Cycle of ICESCR now so that we can better understand the treaty that the Scottish Government will hold themselves accountable for, and to highlight priority issues that the Government need to address to make these rights real.
For any questions about how to get further involved with HRCS’s engagement with the UN Committee, please contact our senior policy officer Lucy on email@example.com