Charities accuse UK of breaching UN human rights on housing

The UK is in breach of its United Nations human rights commitment to provide people with adequate homes due to the housing crisis, according to a coalition of leading charities.

The group, Just Fair, includes charities such as Crisis, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Save the Children and Unicef UK. In a new report they say that the government is failing to meet its obligations to ensure the right to housing of its population, “so that everyone can enjoy a standard of living in homes that are adequate, safe, and secure”.

“The current housing environment is characterised by profound issues of lack of supply, high and further increasing housing costs, lack of security of tenure, and homes of such poor quality that they are unfit for habitation,” the report states.

“These issues plague all of England’s main housing tenure types: the owner-occupied, the private rental, and the social housing sector. Housing insecurity affects not only people on low incomes, but broad swathes of the English population, who currently live in situations of insecurity and uncertainty.”

The report shows that private rents are double the level for council properties, at £163 a week, and a quarter of those renting rely on housing benefit to meet the cost.

At the same time, a third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet basic standards of health, safety and habitability.

The figures also show that last December there were almost 62,000 households in England living in temporary accommodation, the highest number for five years, and 280,000 households are at risk of homelessness.

Rough sleeping in London has also increased by more than a third between autumn 2013 and autumn 2014, while funding for shelters fell.

It concludes that “exceptionally high” levels of rising homelessness and the growing number of households at risk of homelessness represent “a serious failing in the government’s obligations”.

The report’s author, Dr Jessie Hohmann, law lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is quite clear we are in breach of our UN obligations. It is possible to take policy steps to protect the most vulnerable and marginalised, but the UK government has decided not to do that.

“Since the 1980s we have lost any concept of housing’s social function, and that is why protest movements are gaining ground. Without decent housing, you can’t experience an adequate life in society, but now housing is seen just as an asset.”

The report also condemned the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition regarding its housing policy, saying, “Problems in realizing the right to housing are linked to a political climate of austerity, and attendant cuts to state social security and other benefits,” adding that one of the most serious issues is the failure to build enough new homes.

Conservative housing minister, Brandon Lewis, responded to the report, stating, “We inherited a broken housing market after Labour’s housing crash.”

According to Just Fair, a UN agreement which promises to “recognise the the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living … including housing” only allows reduction in rights to housing in cases of “force majeure”, such as war and natural disaster, and cuts executed during financial crises must be ended when the crisis is over.

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