“My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) mentioned the legality of the Government’s legislation. Let me be clear that our Governments have been condemned by the International Labour Organisation and other international organisations for two decades now because of their trade union legislation.
It is not just about the right to strike; it is about certain basic and fundamental trade union rights. The clause, yet again, imposes further duties that I believe to be completely contrary to ILO (International Labour Organization conventions).
Yet again, this country will be isolated in the world and condemned for its attack on trade union rights, which are incorporated in all those international statutes and conventions as a basic human right” -John McDonnell.
This was the third day of Parliamentary debate regarding the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill: it breaches human rights, specifically articles 8 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
An additional concern for me was the lack of transparency and opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. The Government deliberately withheld details – the Electoral Commission had not see the draft Bill, nor had the Select Committee seen it in full.
Cameron is also attempting to limit judicial review. If Select Committees are excluded from the legislative process, a case can be challenged under judicial review as that means the legislation is being created on an undemocratic and procedurally unfair basis. Select Committees are part of the constitutional area of law-making, they simply cannot be ignored.
The withholding of key details of drafted Bills from Select Committees means that effective and organised challenging from the opposition is stifled, too. We most certainly have an authoritarian Government that arrived unannounced and unauthorised, one that has very clearly spent some time out of Office spitefully planning an attack on civil society, and the dismantling of the means of redress. The contents of the Lobbying Bill highlight this further.This was a carefully calculated move, and such tactics have become increasingly common since this Government took Office. It would be an enormous mistake, if not academic dishonesty, to pretend that we now live in a first world liberal democracy.
As I have said elsewhere, the purpose of Government in any democracy is to reflect the needs of a population. This Government seems to believe that the population are here to fulfil their own needs, and they are exploiting the vulnerable, stealing lifeline benefits from them – which we have all paid for via taxes – to profit the very wealthy. This is authoritarianism, and not democracy.
The disclosure from the opposition of yet another contravention of our human rights in Government policy-making comes at a time when the United Nations (UN) have found that the welfare reforms are also in breach of international human rights statute.
The bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments.
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”.
Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also guarantees the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities CRPD was ratified by the UK on 8th June 2009. With the possible exception of European treaties, the CRPD is the most important international treaty on disability.
The Government welfare “reforms” (cuts) undermine the right to live independently and to be included in the community – Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights conducted an enquiry and found that CRPD did not have a significant role in the Coalition development of welfare policy and legislation, as is required by the Convention.
Economic, social and cultural rights are recognised and protected in international and regional human rights instruments. Member states have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights and are expected to take “progressive action” towards their fulfilment. However, the Government’s welfare “reforms” clearly violate the fundamental human right to an adequate standard of living, and we are seeing a significant and substantial increase in economic discrimination and exploitation of the most vulnerable social groups.
I heard Grant Shapps attempt to trivialise the issue of the Government’s breach of our human rights with their Bedroom Tax policy by pointing out that other countries are breaching human rights. The Government here have breached international human rights standards and law, regardless of whether or not other Governments in the world have done so.
The fact that this Government have been found to infringe upon our fundamental human rights by an independent assessor, using international legal standards didn’t seem to faze him one bit. His response and anger was directed only at the fact that the assessment had happened at all.
People are dying here, many are made homeless, we are seeing a massive increase in food poverty, and people are committing suicide because they are so very desperate. This is because of the Government’s welfare “reforms”. Human suffering, loss of dignity and death may have many facets, but all of them are equally unforgiving, and when imposed by humans on fellow humans, all are equally unforgivable.
Unabashed by this, and the fact that this Government are actually found to be guilty of human rights violations, Shapps made an outrageous and personal attack on UN envoy Raquel Rolnik. The right-wing media have followed in pursuit, using shameful racism and diversionary character assassination techniques to try and discredit Raquel.
Raquel Rolnik, UN special housing rapporteur has made an initial recommendation about a number of issues – all of which have been highlighted by the media, politicians and advocates working on housing related matters, in particular:
(1) the bedroom tax breaches human rights
(2) regulation of the private rent sector is needed, and
(3) social housing stock needs to be increased.
She also expressed concern about the impact of welfare reforms and austerity measures on the most vulnerable and highlighted that she had seen signs retrogression in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing.
The UN aide also wants the Bedroom Tax to be investigated fully, as the scheme was never piloted and already constitutes an assault on human rights.The Bedroom Tax is an unfair piece of legislation which has disproportionately negative consequences on disabled people, and those already on the lowest incomes and is therefore discriminatory, as outlined in Labour’s Equality Act, 2010.
She said: “If one life is lost because of these reforms it is one too many“.
Raquel has also hit back at the aggressive behaviour and language of the UK Government following her criticisms of the “bedroom tax”, or “spare room subsidy”, which she recommended be immediately suspended in a press release yesterday. Shapps has claimed Ms Rolnik of being “politically biased” but of course UN Officials are apolitical when it comes to applying the LAW, which is the same, regardless of whether or not a person investigating a breach of that law is liked by the Government, our media, and regardless of alleged personal characteristics.
Raquel Rolnik acted within her remit and did meet the members of the Government, despite the Tory chairman’s claims to the contrary. Although Shapp’s complaints about Ms Rolnik’s failure to meet face-to-face with the ministers responsible for welfare and housing – and hence an alleged lack of balance in her statement – seem somewhat ironic and grossly misplaced, given that it was the Government who did not act on her pre-visit request for those meetings.
She also pointed out at a press conference she held yesterday that she was invited by the Government to be here and that she did speak to Government ministers, including David Foster, Eric Pickles, officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, and she had a list of all the meetings.
She has rightly criticised the deplorably aggressive behaviour of the UK Government:
“It was the first time a Government has been so aggressive. When I was in the USA, I had a constructive conversation with them accepting some things and arguing with others. They did not react like this.”
Nor did Croatia, Algeria, Maldives, Argentina, United States, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. In none of these countries did she experience the same level of hostility and aggressiveness from the Government, Raquel informs us.
This truly is a Government of bullying authoritarians that shame us internationally, and this lady was a guest in our Country. It’s atrocious that the Government could not extend courtesy, respect and good manners to this UN envoy. The utter disregard the Government showed the findings of this inspection shows the world how little regard our Government has for vulnerable citizens, how little concern they have for their welfare and rights, and that they couldn’t even put up a pretence of “best behaviour” and polite engagement with an international audience.
Raquel Rolnik wants to hear about all of the human rights abuses currently occurring in the UK, particularly those related to the welfare reforms. She is also interested in any experiences involving suppression of a right to free speech and protest. I wrote to the UN Human Rights Council recently about the implications of legal aid reform and also about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Previously I have written about the welfare reforms, and had some discussion with the Commission, who have condemned the whole raft of reforms as “retrogressive”.
At her press conference in London, Raquel Rolink once again criticised the Government regarding the the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, and said that Government are clearly violating our human rights, attacking those who needed the support. She has called for an immediate suspension of the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. She said the bedroom tax was not piloted, either.
She mentioned the personal testimonies of people affected by the bedroom tax, the lack of affordable housing the long waiting lists for social housing. Raquel recognises that people cannot move, and cannot afford to pay moving costs. She acknowledged that people with both mental and physical health conditions were dreadfully affected, and that low income workers are also desperately struggling. She can see that those affected are at substantial risk of their health deteriorating as a consequence of the stressful circumstances raised by the bedroom tax, and she acknowledged that people are dying because of the terrible impact of these measures, and that people cannot afford to eat, and heat their homes in order to pay it and keep a roof over their heads.
Raquel stated clearly to the representatives from the media that the policies introduced by this Government do contravene our human rights. She then asked for an immediate suspension of the bedroom tax, for more social housing and private rental housing to be built, for rents to be lowered so people can afford to live and the rents to be capped.
Representatives from Atos Miracles asked if Raquel would look at evidence regarding Atos Healthcare and the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) related deaths. The numbers of the people who have died due to a deterioration in their condition and all of the related suicides within 6 weeks of their ESA claims ending were mentioned. Racquel Rolnik said she would examine all of the welfare changes and welcomed personal stories about the WCA and how it is affecting people.
Therefore Raquel wants to collate accounts from everyone affected, and this evidence will be presented to the United Nations General Council in March. Personal stories will be included in the report she presents.
Raquel was made aware of the Parliamentary debate regarding the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill currently going through parliament. She made it clear that the people of the UK have a democratic right to protest and to freedom of expression, as the Government signed the agreement at the UN Convention to allow this freedom.
The UN will not permit the UK Government to prevent people from speaking out, as is their democratic right. Racquel is interested in any experiences you may have regarding any prevention you have experienced in exercising democratic rights. These experiences, for example, may include being stopped from speaking out on the streets at events or meetings, as well as being restrained or curtailed during a protest or demonstration.
Towards the end of the conference, campaigners handed Racquel two boxes of personal testimonies and accounts amounting to well over 2,000, from people adversely affected by the bedroom tax. She was shocked by the sheer volume of accounts. Raquel said that she will read every single one.
You can email Raquel Rolnik regarding Atos and the WCA and any other issue related to welfare reform. She also wants to know about any experiences that have happened when you have not been allowed or able to speak out, as is your democratic right. I think that the poll tax-styled council tax benefit cuts are also having a dire impact on many people and this would be worth including, too. As would any experience with difficulties accessing legal aid, as that reform also breaches Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to a fair trial.
Raquel Rolnik’s email address is: email@example.com
You can also write to:
His Excellency Mr Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary-General
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
A very BIG well done and thank you to those incredible campaigners that attended the conference, which included Gail Ward, Scar Sugarplum, Paula Peters, Steven Lathwell and Jessica Mccarnun.
Update: I have had some discussion with the International Human Rights Commission, and His Excellency Sir Kurt Alleyne has now written to the UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik regarding her fact finding mission in relation to the “highly controversial Bedroom Tax”. A request was made that evidence of matters relating to the welfare reforms more broadly be requested to be included in her final report, and considerable concern was expressed, after “having viewed a number of matters relating to ATOS Healthcare, ESA and the DWP”.
So to verify, experiences of wrongful sanctions are to be included, and as previously stated, experiences of Atos and assessment, council tax benefit cuts, difficulties accessing legal aid, any improper conduct regarding the DWP, any negative impact that any of the reforms have had on your quality of life and well-being, any restrictions regarding free speech and exercising democratic rights to protest.
The final paragraph of the letter really hit me hard, and despite the fact that I have been campaigning to raise awareness of these issues for two years:
“At this time I am greatly concerned that the Right to Adequate Housing, the Right to Food, The right to Education, The Right to Health, The Right to Security, The Convention on the Rights of the Child and numerous other matters are being violated. I duly request your further commitment to these matters so they may be addressed and be realigned to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all Additional / Optional Conventions and Protocols as observed by International Law and Standards”.
H.E. Sir Kurt Alleyne
Ambassador to United Kingdom and Northern Ireland
International Human Rights Commission