Human rights enlisted to fight Scots child poverty

Children need adequate nutrition to receive a proper education. Pitcure: TSPL
Children need adequate nutrition to receive a proper education. Pitcure: TSPL
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A LEADING Scottish campaign group wants people who have experienced hardship to help them examine the impact of poverty on human rights

Campaigners working on Scottland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights (Snap) argue that when basics needs such as an adequate standard of living, housing and food are left unmet it is difficult for people to exercise their other human rights.

For example, children have the right to an education but if they go to school hungry or are living in substandard or insecure housing it makes it much harder for them to exercise that right in practice.

The campaign – the first of its kind in the UK – aims to make people more aware of their rights and how to assert them as well as making government and public bodies accountable.

The first meeting of the group is due to take place next month to help compile a “roadmap” making human rights a reality for everyone in Scotland, regardless of income.

Social media, including Twitter, is being used to attract people from a wide range of backgrounds comprising those living in rural areas, those who have experienced fuel poverty, and the “working poor” – people with a job but who are struggling to make ends meet. Participants’ travel and childcare costs will be met.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission, who helped initiate the project with the help of other charities, says: “While ideas of fairness and ‘difference; are widely accepted in Scotland, negative attitudes against certain groups persist”.

In 2013, a woman won a landmark ruling against Glasgow City Council arguing that reducing her welfare benefits under the “bedroom tax” was a breach of her human rights. She said she could not share a bedroom with her partner because of her disability.

But while cases have led to a number of judgments “invisible barriers” still remain.

Among them are the protracted timescale, difficulties in obtaining and keeping in contact with a lawyer, and low levels of awareness of what help is available.

Professor Alan Miller, chair of the SHRC, said it was time to examine how human rights legislation could be used as a tool to fight poverty.

She said: “The time is ripe for further exploration of the contribution human rights can make to tackling the persistent problem of poverty that continues to blight too many lives in Scotland.”

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland said: “We are particularly concerned that the current welfare reform agenda, specifically the enforcement of an overly punitive sanctions system, is making things much worse for homeless people in terms of accessing their full range of human rights, including their right to an adequate standard of living, food and housing.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Human rights are indivisible and universal and our Programme for Government contains commitments to deliver fair work, tackle inequality and empower communities, giving better effect to those rights.

“We are working with people from all sectors, including those with experience of poverty and inequality to understand the real problems that people face.

“Protecting human rights is a key part of this. We will respond to the discussion with an action plan setting out practical steps we can take

“Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights has a particular focus on improving standards of living, achieving better health and social 
care and building a stronger ­
human rights culture across ­Scotland.

“The Scottish Government was closely involved in its development and is committed to working with a range of partners to realise its vision of a Scotland in which everyone is able to live with dignity.”