Our new report, published today, documents the state of social rights in and near Colchester, home of the University of Essex Human Rights Centre.
The study uses the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as the normative and analytical framework, and focuses on access to housing, social security, food poverty and child poverty, and access to libraries. These issues affect particularly the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11), the right to social security (Article 9), and the right to take part in cultural life and enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications (Article 15).
The report is based on quantitative and qualitative desk research, as well as 13 in-depth interviews with representatives and officials from Colchester Borough Council (CBC), local community groups, local charities and non-profit organisations and academics, as well as information provided in writing by CBC and Essex County Council (ECC).
Poverty and Social Rights in Essex shows that, for too many people, housing remains unaffordable in the private rental sector and inaccessible in the public sector. The UK Government must deliver on the pledge of putting an end to no-fault evictions. The Government should also afford more assistance to prevent evictions occurring through rent arrears, by restoring Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the 30th percentile of local rents.
Colchester Borough Homes and CBC should build and buy more social/council housing so that individuals and households at greater risk of harm, disadvantage or discrimination are not living in unsafe, overcrowded or unfit housing conditions for extended periods. They should also make sure emergency and temporary accommodation is indeed temporary, and learn from best practice to avoid the use of B&B style accommodation.
A UK social security system that supports the most vulnerable in society is needed now more than ever due to the effects of the pandemic, an unaffordable rental market, soaring energy prices and the overall spiralling cost-of-living crisis. The UK Government should reinstate the £20 a week uplift on Universal Credit and to legacy benefits to reduce and alleviate poverty, and raise benefits by the consumer prices index to meaningfully address the cost-of-living crisis.
Food banks are a symptom of a deeper problem, and not a solution. However, in parallel to the above and other recommendations contained in the report, CBC and ECC should use their maximum available resources and provide as much funding as possible to Colchester Foodbank and other local food charities to help alleviate the toll it will take on food charities as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.
Public libraries play a key role in facilitating access to culture and information and promoting human rights without discrimination. All public authorities should take steps to conserve, develop and promote science and culture. A reduction in the services libraries provide would be a step backwards in the protection and promotion of the right to access to science and culture. In response to our request for information, ECC assured us that “no libraries in Essex have closed, nor will close and they will be run by ECC funded staff. We’re keeping all libraries open.” Despite initial plans in a different direction, ECC changed its course in relation to libraries in 2019 largely as a result of successful local campaigning to save Essex libraries, an ongoing campaign that will continue monitoring the situation to ensure libraries do indeed remain open.
This report is part of Human Rights Local, a project of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex that aims to make human rights relevant where they matter the most, close to people’s homes and lives.
A shorter version of this report will be submitted to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for their forthcoming review of the UK’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a review that will take place between 2022 and 2024.