Photo credit: Knox O (Wasi Daniju) via photopin cc

Years of cuts to social security benefits and Government plans to scrap the Human Rights Act threaten “Britain’s position as a global leader in human rights”, the equalities watchdog warned today (Monday).

In a scathing and wide-ranging report to the UN’s Human Rights Council, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) criticises “a lack of progress on human rights” and warn vulnerable and marginalised people in the UK face an “uncertain future”.

The report has been sent as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which scrutinises the UK’s human rights record every five years, under the spotlight of the international community, with the UK next due to be examined in Spring 2017.

The EHRC also expressed concerns with rising levels of hate crime, particularly since the EU referendum, urging the UK Government to use “new research to tackle hate crime and encourage the police and the courts to work together to stop it”.

The report “gives a worrying assessment of human rights protections across Britain”, the EHRC says, and includes a number of key recommendations. These include:

  • ensuring that a new British Bill of Rights does not weaken the legal protections people currently enjoy through the Human Rights Act
  • using new research to tackle hate crime and encourage the police and the courts to work together to stop it
  • carrying out detailed analysis of spending decisions to look at the overall impact on groups such as disabled people and children
  • ensuring that all unaccompanied and separated children entering the UK are assigned an independent guardian to help protect their interests
  • setting a time limit of 28 days for immigration detention and put an end to the detention of pregnant women
  • ensuring that in the youth justice system restraint is only used as a last resort, to prevent injuries and not used deliberately to inflict pain

Commissioner Lorna McGregor said: “These are uncertain times and we find ourselves at a crossroads, with decisions taken now deciding if we will still be seen as a global leader in human rights in decades to come.

“This report shows a worrying lack of progress, with society’s most vulnerable and marginalised in danger of being left behind.

“Our report is solutions-focused and we have made 30 recommendations that we hope the UN will accept and all governments in the UK will act on.”

Stephen Bowen, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, said: “The Institute’s report shows that over the past four years little progress has been made to fulfil the United Nations’ previous recommendations to the United Kingdom.

“It is disappointing to see that human rights issues, such as ensuring the right to an adequate standard of living and access to justice, have become more prevalent.

“The voice of civil society is clear – repealing the Human Rights Act stands only to make these matters worse, not better. We hope the government will move swiftly to address these concerns, including dropping their plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.”

The news comes shortly after the UN accused the UK Government of “systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights, arguing austerity measures since 2010 “amount to violations of disabled people’s rights”

However the UN’s report was dismissed by Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green, who said the report was “patronising and offensive”.

Responding to the report in Parliament, Mr Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings.

“The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”

The latest report from the EHRC, and next year’s human rights review by the UN, could perhaps force the UK Government to take stock and reconsider how it is treating minority groups – most notably the disabled and those with long-term illnesses.