England: Coalition’s housing record ‘breaches human rights’
The UK government has breached British citizens’ human rights by failing in its obligations to promote access to safe and affordable housing, according to a report to be submitted to the United Nations (UN).
The Just Fair Consortium is an ‘umbrella’ organisation for civil society agencies campaigning for social, economic, and cultural rights. Set against the context of the housing crisis, it has accused the government of failing to meet its obligations to ensure the right to housing of its population.
Just Fair’s report, ‘Protecting the Right to Housing in England: A Context of Crisis’, is the third in a series that will form the basis of the organisation’s parallel report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Report lead author Dr Jessie Hohman, said: “The UK accepted international obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to housing under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) when it ratified the ICESCR in 1976.
“It undertook to take progressive steps towards the realisation of the right to housing, using all the means at its disposal, both financial and otherwise. In a climate of austerity, it is vital to point out that the government is obliged not to take regressive (that is, backward), steps or strip away enjoyment of the right to housing unless this is absolutely necessary.
“Any backward movement must be justified under the strictest possible criteria. Yet a growing number of individuals and families in England are not able to secure the adequate, safe and affordable housing that the ICESCR requires. Homelessness is rising. Housing is increasingly unaffordable, and legislative changes have weakened key safety nets for English households.”
The report focuses in particular on homelessness and conditions in the private rented sector.
Homeless was a major concern for the report’s authors, describing “exceptionally high levels” and calling it the “paradigm violation of the right to housing and its most obvious manifestation”. These factors point to a “serious failing in the Government’s obligations under the ICESCR, the report argued.
As for the private rented sector, the report found “serious issues” of quality, security of tenure, and affordability that make the sector a “profoundly insecure form of housing for many”. The report added: “The government has increasingly presented the PRS as an important lifestyle choice, and as a tenure suited to greater labour market mobility and flexibility. While this may be the case for some economically empowered households, the overall context of private rentals shows that the sector provides housing for a large number of people, particularly families, for whom a private rental home is a source of anxiety over tenure security, cost, habitability, and quality, rather than a sought-after choice.”
Dr Hohman added: “England is experiencing a housing crisis. Exceptionally high numbers of people are homeless, or vulnerable to homelessness. The current housing environment is characterised by profound issues of lack of supply, high and further increasing housing costs, lack of security of tenure, and homes of such poor quality that they are unfit for habitation.
“These issues plague all of England’s main housing tenure types: the owner occupied, the private rental, and the social housing sector. Housing insecurity affects not only people on low incomes, but broad swathes of the English population, who currently live in situations of insecurity and uncertainty.”