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30.06.16

UN ‘seriously concerned’ about human rights impact of austerity

The UN has recommended that the UK government conducts a review of the impact of austerity measures on human rights.

In its first report on the UK’s adherence to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural since 2009, the UN investigative committee said: “The Committee is seriously concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups.”

It recommends that the UK government carries out a comprehensive assessment of the impact of all policies since 2010, especially on women, children and people with disabilities.

It reminds the UK government that austerity measures “must be temporary, necessary, proportionate, and not discriminatory.”

It also raises concerns about the human rights impact of benefits reforms, saying the government should reverse the cuts in social security benefits introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, restore links between state benefits and the cost of living and review benefits sanctions.

The UN recommends that the government carries out a human rights assessment of the impact of fiscal policy, including increases on the inheritance tax limit and VAT, reductions on corporate tax and difficulties prosecuting tax avoiders, on state efforts to address social inequality.

In addition, it recommends a review of the new Trade Union Act and that the government allows asylum seekers to work.

Other human rights concerns raised in the UK include cuts to legal aid, lack of representation of women in senior public and private sector roles, higher unemployment amongst young people from ethnic minorities and with disabilities, and increasing homelessness figures.

Jamie Burton, chair of the charity Just Fair, which contributed to the review, said: “The UN’s verdict is clear and indisputable. It considered extensive evidence and gave the government every opportunity to show why its tax and policy reforms were necessary and fair.  In many important respects the government proved unable to do this.

“It is clear that since 2010, ministers were fully aware that their policies would hit lower income groups hardest and deepen the suffering of many already facing disadvantage without offering any long term gain for the pain they inflicted.  We urge the government to take heed of the Committee’s recommendations and commit to ensuring that it does not diminish human rights further in the UK.” 

Just Fair, a consortium representing charities including Save the Children, Amnesty International and Unison, has previously accused the UK of breaching its UN human rights obligation to provide people with adequate homes owing to the housing crisis.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has also begun its periodic review of the UK’s human rights performance, and has promised to consider issues including the human rights impact of the tax credit cap, which contains a clause stating that women with more than two children can only continue to receive credits if they have can prove that the third child was conceived as a result of rape.

PSE contacted the government for a statement but it did not respond at the time of publication.

(Image c. UN)

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