Economic, social and cultural rights are those human rights relating to the workplace, social security, family life, participation in cultural life, and access to housing, food, water, health care and education. They cover workers’ rights, the right to social security and social protection, protection of and assistance to the family, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the right to education, and cultural rights.
States that have ratified international human rights instruments addressing economic, social and cultural rights are obliged to respect, protect and fulfill these rights, to progressively realise these rights to the maximum of available resources, and to ensure their enjoyment without discrimination.
The key international human rights instruments relating to economic, social and cultural rights are:
The economic crisis and austerity policies provide a very particular context for equality bodies making a contribution to the protection and fulfilment of economic and social rights. These phenomena create situations that demand some priority for a focus on protecting, respecting and fulfilling economic and social rights. It is, however, a context that can also make it difficult to pursue such goals.
The economic crisis and austerity are stimulating increased and changing demands on equality bodies from individual claimants and NGOs. Individual casework linked to the labour market and public sector provision grows in some jurisdictions. But, under-reporting grows in other jurisdictions as people become more fearful of losing their job with little likelihood of securing another. NGOs cast around for new ways to challenge the disadvantage and increasing poverty associated with the economic crisis and austerity policies and turn to equality bodies with new demands. At the same time many equality bodies experience reduced resources which makes it difficult for them to respond.
The economic crisis and austerity can be responsible for diminishing political traction for economic and social rights in some jurisdictions. There can be a political unresponsiveness to the demand for economic and social rights. This makes it difficult for equality bodies to make their full contribution.
This perspective acknowledges the particular mandate that equality bodies have. It is based on the reality that the implementation of this mandate has a particular, additional, and unique contribution to make to the protection and fulfilment of economic and social rights.
It aims to:
This perspective is a contribution to the work of Equinet within the platform for economic and social rights established with the Council of Europe, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions.
It is based on a round table debate facilitated within the Policy Formation Working Group of Equinet, the presentation of good practice exemplars by equality bodies on their work in contributing to economic and social rights, and a survey of Equinet members with responses from twenty equality bodies.