UK Government still in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.


The welfare reforms present a particular challenge to the financial security and autonomy of women. The “reforms” have been strongly influenced by (a particular form of) economic modelling, and do not take into account the lived experiences or the impact of the cuts on those targeted. Conservative ideology also informs the reforms and the Government uses an out-of-date model of households and concern about “dependency” on the state, not within families. The form of modelling depopulates social policy, dehumanises people, and indicates that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects.

We therefore need to ask whose needs the “reforms” are fulfilling.

In 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government about its potential failure to meet its legal duties. This followed concerns raised by the Fawcett Society and others, regarding the estimated grossly disproportionate impact of the austerity cuts on women. The Commission recognised the serious concerns about the impact of the deficit reduction measures on vulnerable groups and, in particular, following the House of Commons library report, the impact of the budget on women. The Commission stated:

We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible.”

A more inclusive understanding of the range of impacts on both men and women is essential in the formulation of gender-aware, as opposed to gender-blind, policy responses to recession and recovery. It’s clear that the UK government is not interested in collating information regarding impacts and subsequent implications regarding inequality, yet they do have a legal duty to do so.

The United Nations Committee report on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights areas where women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and appallingly, shamefully, some have been reversed.

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: concluding observations on the UK’s report

August 13, 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its concluding observations on the UK’s seventh periodic report on 26 July 2013.

Concerns raised by the Committee include protection from discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the impact of austerity measures on women and women’s services, and restrictions on women’s access to legal aid.

Background information

On 17 July 2013, in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examined how the United Kingdom has implemented the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The Committee, a 23-person expert body, monitors compliance with the treaty. It assesses to what extent each State is meeting its obligations on ending all political, economic, social, cultural, civil or other forms of discrimination against women, and makes recommendations for the implementation of the Convention.

The UK CEDAW Shadow Report – “Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check” – was published in May 2013. It was produced by the CEDAW Working Group, a coalition of 42 women’s and human rights organisations from across the UK. The Shadow Report brings together issues impacting on the realisation of women’s rights under CEDAW in the UK in order to support the Government to make positive change in the future.

The report highlights the key areas where women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and in fact some are being reversed.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on 1 July 2013. In its submission the Commission, as a national human rights institution, identifies key issues it believes should be highlighted as actions following the examination and sets out a number of questions the Committee may wish to put to the Government.

These include:

There is no joined up national strategy to implement the Convention in the UK, although there are equality strategies for England, Scotland and Wales. Devolution and localism mean responsibility for delivery and funding is spread across different levels of government. This could lead to geographical inconsistencies and hamper national progress in, for example, the availability of services to women experiencing violence.

Further questions raise issues around legal aid and access to justice; the effect of austerity measures on women and how these are assessed and mitigated and how the persistent educational and occupational gender segregation that contribute to the pay gap will be tackled.

The report says:

While noting the State party’s efforts to harmonise anti-discrimination laws under a single piece of legislation on equality (Equality Act 2010), the Committee is concerned that the Equality Act replaces the Gender Equality Duty (GED) with a single Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) that covers all prohibited grounds of discrimination, and that the specific duty requirements of the PSED have now have no explicit gender component in England, unlike in Scotland and Wales, and does not adequately protect women against multiple discrimination. The Committee is also concerned that certain provisions of the Equality Act have not entered into force, such as provisions relating to the new public sector duty on socio-economic inequalities (sections 1-3); the recognition of “combined discrimination” (section 14); and the publication of gender pay information on (section 78).

The Committee is concerned that the austerity measures introduced by the State party have resulted in serious cuts in funding for organisations providing social services to women, including those providing for women only. The Committee is concerned that these cuts have had a negative impact on women with disabilities and older women. It is also concerned that the State party resorts to commissioning women’s services instead of direct funding, which allegedly risks undermining the provision of these services. The Committee is further concerned that budgetary cuts in the public sector, disproportionately affect women, due to their concentration in this sector.

The Committee is concerned that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 2012 unduly restricts women’s access to legal aid, as it removes access to legal aid for litigation concerning, inter alia, divorce, property disputes, housing and and that a proposed residency test is under consultation. It is also concerned at the introduction of court fees under the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013. The Committee notes with concern reports that these limitations may push women, particularly ethnic minority women, into informal community arbitration systems, including faith-based tribunals, which are often not in conformity with the Convention. 

The Committee notes the reforms to the welfare benefit system in order to consolidate benefits and tax credits into a single payment under the Universal Credit system. However, it is concerned that, under the Universal Credit system, benefits and tax credits will be paid into a bank account of one member of the family, which poses risks of financial abuse for women due to power imbalances in the family, particularly if payment is made to an abusive male spouse.

The government has failed to publish a gender equality assessment of how their policy measures will hit women and men differently. This obscures somewhat the extent to which they have adhered to their legal duty to give due , or in fact any, regard to what their policies will mean for women’s equality.

Click here for details of the Committee’s consideration of the UK’s report, including presentation of the report by the Government Equalities Office, questions by experts and the delegation’s response

Click here for information about the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – 55th session

Click here for live webcast of UK session

Click here for link to Shadow Report

Click here for link to EHRC submission

Click here for Touchstone blog by Scarlet Harris, Women’s Equality Officer at the TUC


The welfare reforms and the language of flowers: the Tory gender agenda

Equality laws fail to protect working women from budget cuts

Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent pictures

28 thoughts on “UK Government still in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.

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