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23.09.16

‘Regressing’ government fails to meet 81 of 85 UN human rights recommendations

Recommendations on the UK’s human rights record have not been implemented since 2012, a new report from the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) has said.

The BIHR’s analysis shows that the UK government has failed to fully meet 81 out of 85 recommendations made by the United Nations (UN) in 2012 to improve domestic human rights protections.

Areas covered include poverty, welfare and adequate standard of living, about which the BIHR warned: “Recent policy and legislative changes have seen a regression in standards of living and the welfare system’s ability to tackle poverty, homelessness and worklessness. This is having a negative impact on vulnerable social groups.”

The report said that the Welfare Reform Act 2012 will have a negative effect on vulnerable groups, including 100,000 disabled children losing up to £28 a week and up to 20% of families affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ being unable to pay the higher rate of rent.

Other welfare reforms which the report highlights include the household benefit cap, which the Supreme Court has ruled violates the UN Human Rights Convention, and the increased use of benefit sanctions, which it says have been linked to destitution and not proven to encourage people back into work.

It warned that new measures introduced by the government also fall short of helping the most vulnerable.

The national living wage, for example, does not apply to under-25s and is not set in accordance with recommendations from the Living Wage Foundation.

The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 raises concerns for freezing working-age benefits for four years from April 2017, removing child tax credit entitlement for families of more than three children, and abolishing the Child Poverty Act 2010, which mandates statutory targets on child poverty.

The report also highlighted the housing crisis and rising homelessness rates as a human rights concern.

By 2031, England will have 2.5 million fewer homes than needed. Almost 30% of private sector tenants are in substandard housing, and there has been a 30% increase in homelessness in the past year.

Major recommendations

The BIHR said the UK government should monitor and review the impact of welfare reforms on living standards, pause and review its sanctioning policy, abolish the bedroom tax, and adjust the rate of the living wage.

In addition, the report said it was “vital” that the government abandons plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and instead strengthens existing human rights protections.

It called on the government to ensure the UK’s exit from the European Union does not have a negative effect on human rights, and to allow devolved administrations to report on how they are dealing with human rights issues.

Other areas of concern raised by the report include violence against women and girls, with funding for women’s shelters facing 31% cuts, dangerous conditions in prisons and increasing hate crime reports.

Stephen Bowen, chief executive of BIHR, said: “The UK Government needs to listen, not just to the United Nations but to the voices of the huge range of organisations closer to home that have shared their serious concerns with the British Institute of Human Rights.

“They are troubled the Government is taking the UK towards further isolationism and disregarding the United Nations, worsening the situation with welfare and legal aid cuts, and wanting to scrap the Human Rights Act, weakening its accountability for our rights at home as well as internationally.”

The report is based on evidence from 175 civil society organisations, including Age UK, Unison and the End Violence Against Women Coalition.

But a government spokesperson said: “The UK is a confident, strong and dependable partner internationally – true to the universal values shared by the United Nations.

“As a nation we continue to fully comply to our international human rights obligations and we continue to take action to tackle any abuse of these rights. This includes working together with the UN to adapt a global response to mass migration and reducing the threat from international terrorism, stamping out modern slavery, championing the rights of women and girls and abhorring sexual violence in conflict.”

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