Around 50 charities, academics, and campaigners have written to Conservative leadership contenders Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak asking them to support a public right to housing, food, and income.
The letter, sent as forecasters predict UK inflation will hit 18% next year and companies warn of “catastrophic” energy prices, calls for “era-defining solutions” to the cost-of-living crisis.
It argues that the offers of one-off payments to households, while welcome, will do nothing to fix the structural problems facing the UK economy including rising prices, falling wages, and insufficient social security payments.
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The signatories, who include the charities Amnesty, Quaker Social Action, and Refugee Council, academic AC Grayling, and activists Francesca Martinez and George Monbiot, say that in order to navigate the oncoming crisis, legal protections should be in place to safeguard the lives of those in the most vulnerable circumstances.
They point out that the UK has been repeatedly urged to adopt such safeguards - for example by the United Nations and the Joint Committee on Human Rights - but successive governments have failed to do so.
“Introducing these protections would ensure everyone gets access to the basics they need: shelter, food, and an income that can meet the cost of living” reads the letter which was coordinated by the think-tank Compassion in Politics and the charity JustFair.
It goes on to say that “not only would that help to end avoidable suffering, it would also enhance our collective freedom. With those protections in place, we would all experience the confidence and security necessary to plan and work towards a better future.”
The United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights was adopted in 1972. It urges governments to provide legal guarantees of access to food, shelter, education, and an adequate income as well as a clear commitment to the continual improvement of those services. The UK is a signatory to that covenant but has never adopted any domestic legislation to implement it.
In closing, the letter states:
“The prospect of navigating the oncoming crisis is understandably daunting. But it can be done. There is enough wealth out there to ensure that everyone is fed, housed, and has the power to lead a good and decent life. We just need the right structures and frameworks in place to achieve that ambition. We need economic, social, and cultural rights.”
Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said:
“In the face of the cost of living crisis we need to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met. This is a simple measure that would guarantee universal access to food, housing, and income. Both leadership candidates should pledge their support for this proposal which, if implemented, would mark a major step towards creating the compassionate, supportive, and inclusive nation we all want to live in.”
Jess McQuail, Director, JustFair said:
“Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, to education, to health, to work, and to social security. The UK Government must act now to bring these rights home, so we can all live a life of dignity and freedom.”
Dr Koldo Casla, Director of the Human Rights Centre Clinic, said:
“We must preserve, use and celebrate the Human Rights Act 1998. However, by and large, social rights are missing from this Act. It is time to bring all human rights home by recognising social rights in the law, policies and processes. Enshrining social rights in UK law would ensure greater accountability, empower civil society, develop transparent guidelines to track progress, and raise the voices of people with lived experience of poverty and inequality.”
Copy of the letter:
The cost-of-living crisis represents an era-defining challenge that demands era-defining solutions.
Right now, people are experiencing extreme hardship and anxiety. Each month, more than two million people are going without food for a whole day. Children are having to forego meals and new clothes for school. Almost half of disabled people have had to cut back on buying essentials.
We were pleased that, in response, the UK Government offered support packages to help individuals towards the cost of energy.
But much more needs to be done.
Payments, though welcome in the short-term, will not address the long-term problems affecting our economy: low-wages, insufficient social security support, and escalating costs.
Despite the challenges, the resources are there to ensure everyone can lead a decent, safe, and prosperous life. Just as households struggle to pay their bills, energy companies have announced record profits.
This is about choices and priorities. We urge you to prioritise support for those who need it.
One simple mechanism could make a big difference: enhancing the status of economic, social, and cultural rights in UK law and policy. By this, we mean, particularly, the right to housing and food as part of an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to health, and the right to social security.
These protections, which we have committed to at an international level via the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, are yet to be formally introduced into domestic legislation.
Successive UK governments have been urged to address this deficit. In 2004, for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded there was an urgent case for “incorporating guarantees of the Covenant rights into UK law” and in 2016 the United Nations’ own Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural wrote to the UK urging “the State party to fully incorporate the Covenant rights into its domestic legal order.”
Now, as hardship bites, is the time to amend this oversight.
Introducing these protections would ensure everyone gets access to the basics they need: shelter, food, and an income that can meet the cost of living.
Not only would that help to end avoidable suffering, it would also enhance our collective freedom. With those protections in place, we would all experience the confidence and security necessary to plan and work towards a better future.
The prospect of navigating the oncoming crisis is understandably daunting. But it can be done. There is enough wealth out there to ensure that everyone is fed, housed, and has the power to lead a good and decent life. We just need the right structures and frameworks in place to achieve that ambition. We need economic, social, and cultural rights.
Matt Hawkins, Co-Director, Compassion in Politics (co-organisers)
Peter Roderick, Principal Research Associate, Newcastle University (co-organiser)
Dr Koldo Casla, Director of the Human Rights Centre Clinic, University of Essex (co-organiser)
Professor Geraldine van Bueren QC, Queen Mary, University of London
Sacha Deshmukh, CEO, Amnesty International UK
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer, Refugee Council
Professor AC Grayling, philosopher, author and the Founder and Principal of New College of the Humanities at Northeastern University
Francesca Martinez, writer and comedian
The Food Foundation
George Monbiot, writer and environmental activist
Graham Whitham, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Poverty Action
René Cassin, the charity working to protect universal human rights
Dr Andrew Fagan, Director, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
Jo Wittams, Interim Executive Director, The Equality Trust
UBI Lab Network
Dr Rayhana Bhamjee, Chartered Clinical Psychologist
Marina Dimova, Chartered Counselling Psychologist
Colette Welby, UKCP Reg. Psychotherapist
Laura Bannister, Campaign Director, World Basic Income
Dr. Neil Howard, University of Bath
Dr Simon Duffy, Citizen Network
James Lock, Director, Opus Independents
Dr James Kirby, The University of Queensland
Professor Paul Gilbert, University of Derby and Compassionate Mind Foundation
Dr Hannah Gilbert, Roehampton University
Dr Julia Frearson, chartered clinical psychologist
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy
Dr Naomi Bright, Humber Traumatic Stress Service
Neal Lawson, Director, Compass
Siobhan Benita, Political Campaigner
Reinhard Huss, Public Health Academic
Delphine Dorsi, Executive Director, Right to Education Initiative
Dr Rosanna Philpott, Clinical Psychologist
Sarajane Aris, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Dr Will Devlin, Clinical Psychologist
Jon Reid, Oxford Brookes University
Clare Moody, Equally Ours
Andy Agathangelou, Founder, the Transparency Task Force
Dr Joe Hoover, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Sarah Masson, Clinical Psychologist
David Morgan, Chair, The Political Mind Seminars, Institute of Psychoanalysis; consultant psychotherapist and NHS psychoanalyst
Judith Moran, Director, Quaker Social Action
Nicholas Nicol, Barrister
Rita Lacerda, Perinatal Clinical Psychologist
Professor Ted Shrecker, Newcastle University
Richard High, Basic Income UK
Mhairi Stewart, psychological therapist, NHS.
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