Human Rights…..

Human Rights…..

A blog by Jane Darling
to coincide with our focus on the changing view of Human Rights in Britain 2022

As l was growing up, l believed that Human Rights were at the absolute foundation of our society in Britain. I believed l lived in a country which valued the lives of people not only in this country, but in the wider world , and particularly in the Commonwealth, or the British Empire, as it was when l was born.

So ,you can see l have been around for quite a while and, unfortunately, I have found that the longer l live, the more l become aware that, as a nation or as individuals, we pick and choose how, where and to whom we employ consideration for, and adherence to Human Rights.

I remember watching films at Sunday School, back in the 1950’s, of malnourished children in African villages of straw covered huts, and being told about how British  missionaries were working there to bring food and salvation to these uncivilized people. It was years later when l was exposed to the horror of the degradation and cruelty of the slave trade portrayed in Alex Bailey’s “Roots”, that l was brought face to face with a depiction of the reality. As time has passed, it has become increasing clear how the British establishment has continued to use its sense of entitlement and privilege to sustain and, indeed widen, inequality and discrimination against others considered less important or expendable, in order to maintain the status quo.

 As we know, slavery is not a thing of the past, only to be read about in the history books. Modern slavery, trafficking and child abduction and exploitation are still going on in our green and pleasant land and in many other countries. Discrimination on grounds of skin colour, ethnicity, sex, gender, religious belief, nationality, disability, class, age, appearance, background, education, occupation, where you live are still alive and kicking. The need for a list of “protected characteristics” is evidence, in itself, of continuing discrimination against difference.

We have the UN convention of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention to prevent abuses in wars, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which are supposed to keep us safe and provide security, but we know that everyday and in so many ways, people in this country and around the world are having their human rights disregarded.

From the Government’s own website:

“The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an international treaty between the States of the Council of Europe. The United Kingdom was one of the States that drafted the ECHR and was one of the first States to ratify it in 1951. The Convention came into force in 1953.

The current version of the Convention incorporates the amendments made by Protocols No. 11, 14 and 15, in 1998, 2010 and 2021 respectively.

The substantive rights and freedoms contained in the Convention are:

  • Article 2: the right to life
  • Article 3: the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
  • Article 4: the prohibition of slavery and forced labour
  • Article 5: the right to liberty and security
  • Article 6: the right to a fair trial
  • Article 7: the prohibition of retrospective criminal penalties
  • Article 8: the right to private and family life
  • Article 9: the freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Article 10: the freedom of expression
  • Article 11: the freedom of assembly and association
  • Article 12: the right to marry
  • Article 13: the right to an effective national remedy for breach of these rights
  • Article 14: the prohibition of discrimination in the protection of these rights

The UK has also ratified Protocol No. 13 to the Convention on the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, as well Protocol No. 1, which contains three additional rights:

  • Article 1 of Protocol No.1: the right to free enjoyment of property
  • Article 2 of Protocol No.1: the right to education
  • Article 3 of Protocol No.1: the right to free and fair elections”

Many forms of Human Rights law has been designed since the days of Magna Carta, but more especially since the second world war, as a reaction to the horrors perpetrated by human beings against other human beings. Where are we now in Britain on our Human Rights record?

We have, since 1953 used the ECHR as our yardstick for regulating behaviour towards others and in 1998 The Human Rights Act was passed into law. It lets you defend your rights in UK courts and compels public organisations – including the Government, police and local councils – to treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.

Does our government ensure that EVERYONE is treated like this? Are our rights as laid out in the ECHR protected by our Government? 

Increasingly over the last decade or so, it would seem that the Conservative government has been irked by the provisions and safeguards in both the ECHR and our own Human Rights Act. It’s a nuisance, that the unions protest when they want to scrap regulations which keep our workforce protected against undue risks to their health and safety at work. They have been annoyed by Extinction Rebellion protesters gluing themselves to buildings or roads; they are irritated by people marching to Parliament Square and shouting about inequality and extremely annoyed by workers striking for better pay or conditions. Their reaction is to try to change the laws which give people the right to exercise their freedom.

Last year Rishi Sunak cut the International Aid Budget. This has made living conditions in some parts of the world harder and may well have contributed to more people fleeing to refuge elsewhere as their lives become more insecure.

The government is dismayed by the number of asylum seekers arriving on our shores, so instead of investing in creating a proper, humane way of dealing with the people who are escaping persecution, war or degradation in their country, with fairness, dignity and respect, they put them in accommodation, hardly fit for human habitation, treat them like criminals and then set up an eye-wateringly expensive, iniquitous and unworkable plan to send people to Rwanda, a developing country with questionable human rights. 

In the workplace, staff are referred to as “human resources”, to be ordered and organised like any other commodity. Staff used to be called “personnel”; the noun refers to people- not commodities. This is not respectful. The invasion into workers leisure time with phone calls and emails is not showing respect for employees private lives. This is not fair.

Zero-hours contracts, despite the insecure nature of the employment, the low pay, and the lack of rights of the workers are allowed to continue.

Ordinary tax- payers are subsidising companies which pay below the minimum wage, via Universal Credits payments. Companies, if prosecuted, get a fine which they factor into their costs whilst continuing to make huge profits.  

Families are expected to live in rented accommodation which may be insecure, badly maintained and over-priced, moved into totally unsuitable temporary accommodation, whilst councils sit on their hands, failing to deliver on their commitments to building council houses or providing social housing.

Children with special needs are languishing at home without suitable education provision.

Sick people’s lives are being put at risk whilst the NHS is trying to cope with far too few doctors, nurses, midwives, health visitors, paramedics and ancillary staff. Hospital beds are being taken up by people who cannot leave hospital because they cannot be cared for in the community.

This winter many are going to be at risk of death or serious illness because they cannot afford to provide for themselves. What happened to treating people with dignity, fairness, and respect? The rich go on profiteering and being handsomely cared for by the government who wanted to let them pay less tax and refuses to institute a windfall tax on the energy companies.

A study, published by the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” found that during the Austerity Years 2012-2019, there were more than 330,000 excess deaths due to experiencing reduced income, ill-health, poor nutrition and housing and social isolation. This ended the trend in previous years which had been for better outcomes, but severe cuts imposed by Osborne and Cameron caused a great deal of harm.

I have done little more than scratch the surface of the level of inequality, the lack of adherence to human rights laws and the basic moral principles of extending dignity, fairness and respect for others.

Boris Johnson’s government have attacked laws which get in their way. They proposed scrapping the Human Rights Act and ceasing to abide by the ECHR now we have left the EU. It remains to be seen what Liz Truss takes it into her head to do, in the coming days, weeks or years, depending on how long she survives.

It is time we stood up for our rights, and the obvious way to do that is to work to ensure that a Labour Government is elected as soon as possible. The people of Britain need to decide what kind of country do we want Britain to be. The Labour Party has decided that moral values and human rights are guiding their policy decisions and will inform their Manifesto. Change for a new Britain is possible.

Jane Darling

9th October, 2022


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