We live in an age of neoliberalism and austerity, characterised by privatisation, profits over people and cutbacks on social spending and protections. Their impacts are far reaching and felt most intensely by the world’s most disadvantaged, including in the UK. They represent a direct attack on social rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, food, health, housing, social security and education. As poverty and inequality intensify, people are understandably looking to change the status quo, and it is precisely this mounting public discontent that has fanned the flames of populist movements and led to shocking outcomes, such as Brexit and the elections of Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. It has also led to progressive social and political movements, such as the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the promise of a radically different, more engaged and socially progressive Labour Party in the UK. Underpinning many of the recent struggles for meaningful and progressive change is a demand for social rights. But the transformative potential of these important rights is still so often ignored by those in positions of power, as is the case in the UK.
A timely and accessible new report by Professor Paul Hunt, Social Rights are Human Rights – but the UK System is Rigged, grapples with these important issues and more, and is a refreshing call to action for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. The report explains what social rights are and why they are so important for individuals and communities, particularly the most disadvantaged. It describes real life examples, both from the UK and further afield, of how social rights have been used to affect meaningful change on the ground, confirming that they are not just abstract principles. Rather, social rights have the potential to be an effective tool, protected by law, to empower individuals and communities, shape fairer laws, policies and strategies, develop guidelines for practitioners, reduce disparities in living standards, help hold those in positions of power accountable, and claim entitlements.
Crucially, the report describes how social rights have been rendered practically invisible in the UK, resulting in a lack of awareness about them among the population. Turning to Corbyn’s Labour Party, Professor Hunt celebrates the fact that Jeremy Corbyn has explicitly affirmed social rights, and describes the 2017 Manifesto as being a “remarkable achievement”, praising its commitment to progressive social policies. But he rightfully critiques it for not explicitly referring to social rights and lays out the various ways in which linking the Manifesto’s policies to social rights would not only work to strengthen it, but also go a long way to advancing these important rights in the UK.
Bringing decades of domestic and international experience in the theory and practice of social rights, Professor Hunt eloquently distills a complex, and what some may see as controversial, topic into a very educational and accessible report, outlining practical and achievable forward strategies to help promote and protect social rights in the UK.
As Professor Hunt rightly points out, the Labour Party is in a unique position to make a historic contribution to social rights. We hope this report galvanises the Party and its members, as well as the centre-left generally, to take social rights seriously and take the steps needed to place these critical rights firmly on the national agenda once and for all.
[*] Gen Sander is Human Rights Analyst at Harm Reduction International.
[†] Nathan Derejko is a Teaching Fellow in Human Rights and Director of the MA in Human Rights at University College London.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone