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Housing, Human rights/equalities, Reports & Publications, Research, Social security and welfare benefits, System design

Building a human rights bridge out of poverty

Koldo Casla (School of Law, University of Essex)

The practical realisation of social and economic rights, especially in the sphere of social security, housing, education and healthcare, is a critical dimension of administrative justice. These matters represent the dominant areas where most citizens will interact each day with public administration and where most disputes between the state and citizens will arise. It also represents the aspect of public administration which most interacts with citizens who are at greater risk of harm, disadvantage and discrimination as a result of poverty and lack of opportunities. The importance of focusing on improving people’s everyday quality of life in these ordinary “small places” was a central message behind Margaret Doyle and Nick O’Brien’s book Reimagining Administrative Justice: Human rights in small places.

In light of this, the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex is working with Just FairAmnesty International UK and ATD Fourth World to facilitate that people with lived and learned experience of poverty meet and learn from each other, gain and develop research and advocacy skills, build networks, and improve their/our general understanding of social rights challenges and opportunities in the UK.

A common theme of the activities is “building a human rights bridge out of poverty”, with valuable examples of local activism on food, housing, digital exclusion, inequality and more.

This initiative is part of Human Rights Local, a project of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, funded by ESRC Impact Acceleration Account.

In January 2021, the initiative brought together people with lived and learnt experiences of poverty from London, Manchester, Glasgow, Teesside, Cardiff and other parts of the UK.

In February, we learned about local advocacy experiences led by people with lived experience of poverty and other forms of disadvantage, including a campaign for the right to work in Belfast, for refugee rights in Manchester, the right to food in Wales, the socio-economic duty in Teesside, and to address the digital divide nationally.

You can find a summary report of these two events here.

Participants in these events will meet again via Zoom in June to discuss how to get involved in the UK review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which will take place in 2022-23.

Academics often argue in support or against the alleged timelessness and universality of human rights. Meanwhile, community groups around the country show that the endurance of human rights depends on what we do with them closer to home in our local communities.

The experiences of community groups in the UK, and beyond, contribute to connect international human rights law with local activism in a way that reinforces both spheres, but puts the centre of gravity of human rights action and research at the local level. These cases encourage us to expand and develop a model of human rights advocacy from the ground up, reflecting lived experiences and amplifying local narratives to trigger hope and change.

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