MONDAY 17 OCTOBER 2022
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Glasgow Square this fine morning.
I’ve been asked to say a few words about Human Rights in relation to poverty. So, what are Human Rights? I like to compare HR to water – something we know a lot about living in Scotland. Water is something we take for granted here in Scotland. It’s always there when we need it – just at the twist of the tap. It features greatly in our daily lives in one way or another hence the cry we all know “it’s bucketing doon, the sheets are gonnae get ruined”. We take pride in the beautiful scenery that the Lochs bestow upon us with and, well, water it’s just always there isn’t it? But is it???? As this summer has shown (remember that) climate change is now an undeniable fact and Scotland was hit with unparalleled high temperatures and Lochs and reservoirs began to run low.
So, what has water got to do with HR. Like water we take our HR’s for granted – they’re just there aren’t they? They are a thing?? We take for granted that if we feel we are discriminated against by any organisation our HR’s will kick in, giving us recourse to challenge what we feel is a prejudiced decision. We take for granted our right to speak freely and express our views in any legal way we want. We know that if we are arrested by the State for expressing these views we have the right to a fair trial presided over by a judge and 12 fellow citizens with legal representation from a fellow qualified citizen. At all times we have the right to be listened to and treated with Dignity.
But are we always treated with Dignity and will these unalienable HR’s always be with us? At the moment the UN Universal Declaration on HR’s is enshrined in UK Law as the UK is still part of ECHR and any perceived breaches of our HR’s can be challenged in the Law Courts. But, and this is a very big but, the current government in Westminster wishes to remove the UK from the ECHR and introduce it’s own form of ‘British Rights’. But, I hear you cry, “the UK was one of the main contributors to UN Universal Declaration of HR’s and one of the first signatories to the Declaration itself so we’re covered right?”. Errr No! The UK is a signatory, yes, but the Declaration is not enshrined in UK Law so there is no legal obligation to uphold the principles of the UN HR’s articles.
For Your Information I’ll quickly cover the 5 basic principles which guide the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights:
I’m sure you’re asking yourself what’s this got to do with Poverty? Today we’re here to mark the IDEP which was first commemorated 35 years ago by an international group called ‘All Together in Dignity’ (there’s that word again!). It was then adopted 5 years later by the UN which makes today pretty special as it’s the UN’s 30th Anniversary marking IDEP.
Let’s take the core principles one by one.
Dignity – We have the right to dignity and respect but, how many of us dealing with poverty in our daily lives feel as if we are living a dignified life? Do we feel respected when dealing with the DWP or, if we’re on a low income, feel our self-worth is recognised when our monthly salary is paid into the bank. Living in poverty brings a myriad of emotions with it but dignity isn’t one of them.
Non-Discrimination – we all can understand the concept of discrimination when it comes to disability, nationality, gender etc but Poverty???? Yet, we are discriminated against when you live in poverty. Why are you denied a choice of energy tariffs if you’re on a payment meter unlike other customers. I’ve had experience where I was discriminated against and stereotyped because I grew up, and still live in Possilpark.
Equality – Isn’t this the same as ‘Non-Discrimination’. Not quite. Equality is there to ensure that all groups within Society are able to participate fully, without exclusion. I would argue that this principle is breached daily for those of us living in poverty, especially if we have children. How many times have we had to tell our children that we can’t afford to pay for them to go on a school trip or take part in a school activity due to cost (I’m thinking here of dress down Fridays where you had to send in a £1 donation – manageable if you only had one child at the school but if you had 2 or 3?). I can give you an example from my own life, or should I say my children’s lives.
My children had to travel by school bus to their school which is in an affluent part of Glasgow. The school bus leaves at the end of the school day which means that students from poorer families are denied access to after-school activities such as learning-clubs, sports and game activities – in fact, being denied access to a large part of school life. Denying their right to be able to participate – ie breaching equality principles.
Autonomy – Is about having the right to give consent and take part in decisions which affect your life. Well, if you’ve had any dealings with the DWP you know you definitely don’t have any control over your life. You have to live your life by their rules, decisions are made which can have major implications for you and your family – all without your consultation. Just now the UK government is stalling on a decision whether to raise benefits in line with inflation, which is at 10% or in line with wages, which is at 5%. This not only is breach of this principle it’s also a breach of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto commitment.
Accountability – Oh boy, if you’re living in Poverty, especially on benefits you have to constantly account for your life and actions. I’m immediately thinking of the Job Seeker’s Allowance component of Universal Credit. Here you are required to fill in a daily diary showing that you have been actively seeking work for up to 36 hours per week. You can be called in for interview by the DWP at any time and if you miss or are late for the interview, no matter the reason, you can be sanctioned from 2 weeks to indefinitely. I’m on PIP and every 3 years I have to attend a full on medical assessment. Here, I have to give an account of my medical condition, which is never going to get better, only worse. For me this leads to stress and I’ll admit it, outright terror because the decisions made by the assessor can have such a deleterious affect on my life.
So, as you can see our HR’s, like water, are precious. Recently, I had undergone major surgery and post-op I was nil-by-mouth for 5 days – no fluids, no food. This was in July during the heatwave. I can tell you I fantasised about water, in fact I started to obsess over it. When I was finally allowed a nice, chilled drink of water nothing tasted so sweet to me as that first glass and I don’t think anything ever will. Human Rights to most of us are just something that exists in the background and we really don’t give much thought to, a bit like water. However, we won’t realise how precious those rights are until they are taken away and we no longer have the protection of the ECHR. So, I would urge everyone to not only stand up for your rights but also to defend those rights from those who wish to reform and take them away. Thank you.
- Brian Scott- SPTC