Cello David makes the case for a Social Rights Bill.
Economic, social and cultural rights protect our basic standards of living, such as: a right to adequate food, adequate housing, fair work, adequate healthcare and adequate education. Yet, they have long been viewed as as secondary rights rather than fundamental human rights. You only have to look at the fact foodbanks outnumber McDonalds; schools are being forced to beg parents for cash; more than 17,000 hospital beds have been cut in the past 10 years; worker’s rights are being stripped and the implementation of exploitative zero hour contracts has risen; and at least 320,000 are homeless in the UK, to realise our current rights stand for very little and do not offer even basic protection.
An estimated 14.3 million people are living in poverty in the UK, and despite the fact we now know the Government are capable of putting an end to rough sleeping, we have instead seen it rise by 165 per cent under their watch since 2010. The recent pandemic was a harsh wake up call to the true cost of austerity and cuts. Whilst adopting economic, social, and cultural rights into our constitution cannot fix these problems, they support an adequate standard of living – affirming that life not simply about survival. Which is why Labour must commit fully to protecting our right to a basic standard of living.
The Party has a long and proud history of protecting these rights from the creation of the National Health Service by Aneurin Bevan in 1948, their ongoing support and bolstering of trade unions and workers’ rights, to the recent manifesto pledge to build 100,000 new council homes a year by 2024. The party has always championed our social rights and at the heart of most Labour policy is the defence of our right to a basic and just standard of living – but more should be done. If Labour committed to enshrining our economic, social and cultural rights into law through a Social Rights Bill then it would no longer be so easy for future Government’s to dismantle our welfare system or our access to vital public services.
The Conservative Party has eroded the basic standard of life for many across England. During their last ten years in power, they have systematically dismantled workers’ rights, cut funding to schools, cripplingly underfunded the NHS – and completely failed our social care system. The punitive Universal Credit system has seen people going without food, missing rent and being evicted from their homes due to multiple failures in the system – and over 17,000 people have died whilst waiting to hear whether their claim for disability benefit has been successful.
The fact our system can fail people so egregiously is exactly why Labour needs to commit fully to protecting economic, social, and cultural rights. These rights at least offer a benchmark that could safeguard our society against austerity policies. The refusal by this Conservative Government to protect a basic standard for so many in society demonstrates exactly why the Labour Party needs to go further to safeguard social rights.
The Social Rights Bill has already been drafted by a group of human rights practitioners and academics at Newcastle University and if it was implemented would ensure that the Government had to protect the internationally recognised right to a decent standard of living. Labour is the only political party in the England that has the genuine will to implement such change, even though it would help support and defend millions. Which is why Labour must take action now and recognise that the adoption of a Social Rights Bill is in fact a moral imperative for our party.
Cello David is a committee member of the Young Fabians International Network, the Fabian International Policy Group and is a Campaign Officer for Labour Campaign for Human Rights. She works in communications and public affairs for Westminster based firm, PLMR.
She tweets at @cellovashti.