Government wrongs, Human Rights and a call for evidence from Raquel Rolnik

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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.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It states that:

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: srhousing@ohchr.org

You can also write to:
His Excellency Mr Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary-General
UN Headquarters
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
USA
E-­mail: sgcentral@un.org

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.

Related links:

Amnesty International has condemned the erosion of human rights of disabled people in UK

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

The Government considers itself to be above the law.

The Coming Tyranny and the Legal Aid Bill.

The UK Government have got it wrong about our Human Rights.

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

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his exceptional work on awareness raising, and his brilliant satirical pictures

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29 thoughts on “Government wrongs, Human Rights and a call for evidence from Raquel Rolnik

  1. Email sent to Ms Rolnik with regard to (removal of) Council Tax Benefit – as outlined above, effectively another cut to benefit. Although it is not on the scale of Bedroom Tax payments/Benefit Cap, it is money previously considered part of ‘essential living costs’ – now removed (effectively) at source, as it must be paid or face court/fines.

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    1. Good to hear, Shirley, glad people are sharing their experiences with the UN HRC Council tax varies from area to area, will affect many more than the bedroom tax has, and I believe it is causing severe hardship for very many. I think the cumulative effect of the reforms that hit many of the same people over and over will be devastating for many.

      So far in my area, there is no additional council tax to pay for benefit claimants, but once local authority cuts hit properly, I doubt many councils will have a choice about cutting people’s CT benefit

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  2. Just wanted to point out that you have spelled her name wrongly. It should be Rachel, not Raquel! I think it’s pretty important that people get her name right as she is an official UN representative. : )

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  3. CAMERON AND OSBORNE MASSACRE SICK AND DISABLED PEOPLE

    1) DAVID CAMERON’S FAMILY FORTUNE : THE JERSEY, PANAMA AND GENEVA CONNECTION
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/apr/20/david-cameron-jersey-panama-geneva
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/conservative-party-links-to-fat-cat-103271
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/163850bn-official-cost-of-the-bank-bailout-1833830.html

    2) SICK? WHO GIVES ATOS?
    [ Atos is the private company appointed by the british goverment to assess sick and disabled people and to cut benefits ]
    A sick person died after being told to get a job as his heart condition wasn’t “life-threatening”.
    http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2011/02/sick-who-gives-atos.html

    3) ATOS MACHT FREI – ATOS ORIGIN TEAM UP WITH GAS CHAMBER FIRM!
    Atos Origin, the poverty pimps currently pocketing hundreds of millions harassing people who are claiming sickness or disability benefits have teamed up with manufacturers of the holocaust’s gas chambers Siemens.
    Siemens will contribute its Siemens IT Solutions & Services for €850-million to Atos Origin and become a shareholder of Atos Origin with a 15% stake.
    Siemens are most famous for their use of slave labour during the holocaust. Prisoners were utilised by Siemens to build the gas chambers in which they would eventually be murdered…………..
    http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/atos-mach-frei-atos-origin-team-up-with-gas-chamber-firm/

    4) MAN CUTS THROAT WITH KNIFE IN RUNCORN BENEFITS OFFICE IN PROTEST BEDROOM TAX…
    http://atosvictimsgroup.co.uk/2013/07/25/man-cuts-throat-with-knife-in-runcorn-benefits-office-in-protest-bedroom-tax/

    5) ATOS BENEFITS BULLIES KILLED MY SICK DAD, SAYS DEVASTATED KIERAN, 13
    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/atos-killed-my-dad-says-boy-1411100

    6) THIS GOVERNMENT (Aided by ATOS) KILLS!
    ” A Freedom of Information document from the DWP has revealed that rather than an average of 32 deaths per week as a result of Welfare Reform that figure has now risen to an average of 73 deaths per week!
    When is this going to stop?! When are people going to wake up and help us fight against this government?! We need help!
    How many more vulnerable, sick and disabled people have to die before something is done?!
    As a disabled person, I don’t want to live in this country any more.”
    ” People are being left with nothing! Vulnerable, sick and disabled people are being left destitute after having their benefits wrongly cut, by a cruel and callous government!”
    http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/10/06/to-helen-back-nothing-short-of-barbaric/
    https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-esa-revolving-door-process-and-its-correlation-with-a-hugely-significant-increase-in-deaths/

    7) AROUND 4,400 PEOPLE COMMIT SUICIDE IN ENGLAND EACH YEAR – THAT’S ONE DEATH EVERY TWO HOURS – AND AT LEAST 10 TIMES THAT NUMBER ATTEMPT SUICIDE
    http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/S/suicide/

    8) MAN WITH TERMINAL BRAIN CANCER TOLD HE’S ‘FIT FOR WORK’
    “A man with terminal brain cancer is among those being told they are ‘fit for work’ under the government’s work capability assessment programme, new research has discovered.
    Other figures told they would lose their disability benefit included someone with no short-term memory mechanism and an incontinent disabled man who is both blind and deaf.” http://politics.co.uk/news/2012/11/12/man-with-terminal-brain-cancer-told-he-s-fit-for-work

    9) ATOS BENEFITS BULLIES KILLED MY SICK DAD, SAYS DEVASTATED KIERAN, 13
    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/atos-killed-my-dad-says-boy-1411100

    10) CAMERON AND OSBORNE ABOLISH THE POSSIBILITY OF SICK AND DISABLED PEOPLE TO APPEAL THE DECISIONS THAT CUT THEIR BENEFITS CONDEMNING THEM TO DEATH
    https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/735/
    http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2013/08/29/draft-deregulation-bill-government-moves-to-shut-down-judicial-supervision-and-criticism-of-dwp-atos-decision-making-by-abolition-of-duty-by-tribunals-president-to-publish-annual-report/
    http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2355-dwp-dismisses-talk-of-fitness-for-work-catch-22 http://atosvictimsgroup.co.uk/2013/09/10/dwp-dismisses-talk-of-fitness-for-work-catch-22/
    https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/what-you-need-to-know-about-atos-assessments/

    11) BRITISH GOVERNMENT APPOINTS PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANY UNUM IN ORDER TO DESTROY WELFARE SYSTEM
    http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2011/09/07/new-labour-the-market-state-and-the-end-of-welfare/
    12) United Kingdom Government Denounced for Crimes Against Disabled People to International Criminal Court in The Hague
    https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/amnesty-international-has-condemned-the-erosion-of-human-rights-of-disabled-people-in-uk/
    http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/09/23/united-kingdom-government-denounced-for-crimes-against-disabled-people-to-international-criminal-court-in-the-hague/
    https://217.72.179.33/members/www.bilderberg.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=5076

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  4. It sounds like we At Last have a Saviour!!!! Iam so happy that she doesn’t care about upestting the dictators here!!!!! Now I only hope she has real claws that she can use, and that solutions can be found? Please,please,please??????????!!!!!!!

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  5. Sent her am email hen not heard back from her yet but she will have millions to go through eh x xxx we just have to keep sending x ALSO need to SHOW UP our own EQUALITY bodies for sitting back and letting it ALL HAPPEN they failed US TOO as well as the parties xx hope yer well hen huge Scottish hugs for yeh xxx

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  6. If you have had any experiences regarding exploitative job suggestions, or unfair benefit sanctions, negative experiences with Atos and the WCA and any other issue related to welfare reform, please do share them with the UNHRC.
    Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur also wants to know about any experiences you have had involving not being allowed or able to speak out, as is your democratic right. 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.
    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: srhousing@ohchr.org

    Like

  7. Emailed via the Disability Rights UK page, disgusted with this country and its dismantling of a system that was put into force to stop the poverty and depravation of the less fortunate members of our society.

    Like

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