Human Rights, Housing and Health Inequity

By Stephen Battersby, Chair, Pro-Housing Alliance

In 2001, the late Inez McCormack – the influential human rights activist and first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – brought together a wide range of individuals including social justice and human rights activists, community representatives, academics and lawyers from across the island of Ireland, to begin a discussion around the theme of participation and rights. The resulting cross-border conference of 2002 entitled ‘Participation and the Practice of Rights’ evidenced the need and the desire to harness international human rights tools for use in local struggles for equality. Encouraged to explore this further, the emerging organising groups linked in with an international network of human rights experts and advisers, whilst simultaneously moving the discussion into local communities to explore the value of this work to concrete experiences of exclusion on the ground

It was seen as vitally important to link international human rights with local experience. For while the UK and Ireland are required by law (currently) to implement their human rights obligations as defined in the international treaties they have ratified, the realities on the ground clearly demonstrated that this implementation was failing in practice. Only by equipping local communities with the knowledge of these state obligations, and putting tools of rights relevant to their specific conditions at their disposal, could they begin to effectively hold the state to account and bring about real and meaningful change.

Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR, see their website for individual tenant stories) works in Northern Ireland on issues including the right to health, housing, welfare, youth participation and urban regeneration, and employment, directly supporting disadvantaged groups to use PPR’s innovative human rights based approach to tackle the exclusion and socio-economic inequalities they experience.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recognised the work of the Belfast based Seven Towers Residents Group as an international best practice example of using international human rights standards to make local change. The publication on Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation has cited the Seven Towers use of human rights indicators and benchmarks as “an example of how people can effectively use indicators to claim their rights.” The report examines different methods of monitoring government activity in order to make improvements to the social and economic condition of the most marginalised in society.

Is it not the time for a similar organisation in England? One that can equip local groups who are so badly affected by the government’s attack on human rights either directly or via “welfare reform” to seek their own remedies and hold national and local government to account?