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Human rights are a powerful tool for social change - but their potential is yet to be realised in the UK

31.10.2007
Asserting and claiming our human rights will help secure improved public services while forging stronger ties between people.

A new booklet, entitled ‘Human rights, a tool for change’, published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) examines the role that human rights should be playing in the lives of all in the UK. It was produced following the sixth, and last, in a series of special seminars entitled ‘Engaging Citizens’, organised by the ESRC in collaboration with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The publication is intended to make a positive contribution to the debate about social justice, and the role of human rights in improving public services in the UK. It sets out the case for everyone to be aware of their human rights and to actively use them in their lives. In addition, the case is made by Professor Stuart Weir, director of Democratic Audit, to include social, economic and cultural rights in a Bill of Rights, along with the civil and political rights that are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

‘Human rights, a tool for change’ draws on presentations at a recent seminar given jointly by Katie Ghose, director of the British Institute of Human Rights, and Professor Weir. Their work is helping people and organisations in the UK realise that human rights are not granted, but must be claimed and used to bring about changes in society that will ensure social justice.

Katie Ghose believes human rights should play a role in the lives of everybody in the UK, and that this will enable them to lead their lives to the full. Currently, the potential for using human rights as a means for improving public services, increasing participation, reviving democracy and promoting social cohesion has yet to be achieved in the UK. Human rights, she urges, should be used as a tool for tackling social injustice, enhancing public services and empowering people to participate fully in society.

She says, “A ‘culture of respect for human rights’ has not yet taken root in the UK, despite recent plain English guidance from the Government. Service providers continue to lack confidence in human rights, and front line staff and managers continue to push such issues straight to the legal department. Nor have human rights been mainstreamed in the work of voluntary and community organisations, as campaigners or service providers, despite an eagerness to learn more.”

However, Katie Ghose points to ‘green shoots’ that are appearing. In projects carried out by the British Institute of Human Rights and other organisations, individuals and groups are beginning to harness the inbuilt participative nature of human rights to bring about social change.

Stuart Weir suggests that powerlessness is the source of the unsatisfactory quality of many of our public services. He also underlines that: poverty, poor education, unemployment, low pay, homelessness and social isolation all violate basic human rights. He warns that they either preclude, or hinder, people from using their civil and political rights to improve their lives and from participating effectively in democratic processes. To address these inadequacies in society, he maintains there is a way forward.

He says, “If the UK is fully to protect the human rights of its citizens, it has to introduce economic, social and cultural rights into British law. For the fact is that civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights, are interdependent; and we require both sets of human rights if we are to give citizens in this country the human dignity and self-confidence necessary to lead full and fulfilled lives.”

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR A COPY OF THE BOOKLET, CONTACT:
Amanda Williams at the ESRC on Tel: 01793 413126 or amanda.williams@esrc.ac.uk

Danielle Moore | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esrc.ac.uk
http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

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