Walking together in the name of social justice

Benefits as a Human Right

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 11:40 -- admin
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Firstly I'd like to say that I'm grateful to have the opportunity to express my point of view and share these thoughts with you through this website, as I've had problems with expressing them for years. And at the risk of upsetting the apple cart, and those who wrote the “Poor Mental Health Report”, posted on the 4th April, there is only one thing about that which I'd like to comment on before I begin.

It is the concept of subjective well-being, and in particular these words on page 10 and others thereafter which suggest likewise i.e. “emotional well being is how useful children in poverty feel”.

Speaking as someone who grew up in poverty, and may well be undeservedly still in that sector of society, I would like to have seen the words 'made to feel' used. As that is closer to the truth and reflects the fact that 'feeling or being poor' isn't just a subjective matter. Indeed 'feeling a failure' isn't just related to poverty as it's more to do with how you are made to feel by, as my parents would have said, 'your elders and betters' including themselves and grandparents of course. But especially  by those who are in positions of 'authority' over others throughout their lives.

In my case even some of my school teachers made me feel useless; and I had similar problems with my employers, despite the fact that I was always considered 'objectively' intelligent. That seems to make no difference to anyone in determining the route their lives may take. Because others will feel intimidated by that, and will try to 'put them in their place', especially if they've been born or raised in poverty. But perhaps that's just my 'subjective opinion'.

However getting back to the matter in hand. Many of you may have watched Ian Hislop's latest programme for BBC 2 on Thursday the 7th April 2016, entitled “Workers or Shirkers?”, in which he explored the Victorian origins of today's Benefits system. So, the object of this article is to draw to your attention what this has to do with the current system, and the origins in World War 2 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights or (UDHR) that should have changed attitudes to such Benefits.

I myself didn't even discover the text of that document until January 2008, when I found it on the website for the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights, where it is available in hundreds of languages at - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Pages/SearchByLang.aspx

From there I discovered that this was followed up by 2 Covenants signed in 1966, although for reasons that will take too long to go into here, the UK didn't actually 'Ratify' these until May 1976. Nonetheless, the simple truth is that despite that, and the UN confirming that “they entered into force for the United Kingdom on the 20th August 1976”, (see original document here  http://treaties.fco.gov.uk/docs/pdf/1977/TS0006.pdf ) they have never been fully complied with by any UK Government since then, or in any of its laws.

So the facts are that The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the other one, simply restated similar rights which were included in the UDHR, which the UK claimed was not 'legally binding' in January 1949. Although I have also found proof that they 'engaged' in actively ensuring that this would not be so in 1948. Personally I believe that this action violated not only the principles expressed in the UDHR but also the UN Charter which they had signed in 1945 as a founding UN Member State, and also a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council.

But the UDHR first made the link between Benefits/Social Security and Rights, when it stated in its Article 22 that - “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality”.

And the first of those concepts was then restated in the ICESCR in its 'stand alone' Article 9 which said that :-

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance.

And although this may seem pretty vague it has to be taken in context with the whole document and other associated rights, such as those in Article 11:-

  1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions...
  2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed...

Article 12.1 - The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

It must also be borne in mind that the UN has also always said that “all human rights are interrelated and interdependent”, so these examples are not exclusive when it comes to whether fixed 'Universal Benefits' are in reality adequate for everyone's needs.

But the problems with the UK's Benefit System don't begin and end here either. Because part of the problem highlighted in Ian Hislop's programme was the Victorian concept of the 'Undeserving' and 'Deserving' Poor, which his programme showed is still held by the Government to this day, and indeed seems to have been the basis of their policies on Social Security Benefits.

However, I wonder why no one seems to have asked the opposite question in all this time, but especially in the last week with the 'Panama Papers' revelations. I.e. Are there also not in fact 'deserving' and 'undeserving' Rich people? I'll leave that thought with you, although I bet you can guess what I believe on this if you get to the end of this item.

Other problems with 'the system' are the methods used by the DWP; its 'Medical Assessors'; and the Tribunal system itself. Because once again human rights are violated in this process, and therefore all such decisions should be overturned until the system is brought into line with those rights.

Setting aside, if possible, the completely arbitrary methods of the DWP's 'decision makers' and their cohorts, engaged in assessing 'fitness for work', all of which violate rights. The worst offenders in my opinion are the Judiciary (who have been paid at least £2,000/wk since 2005 to my knowledge). As they seemingly know nothing about these Rights, and even when confronted with them, are happy to make excuses for ignoring them.

This should be unacceptable to anyone, but especially to their victims. I include myself in that because I've tried for a few years to get Tribunals to acknowledge the existence of these documents, and even found another from the Council of Europe (which was published in January 2014) under their review of the UK's compliance with the European Social Charter (ratified by the UK on the  11th July 1962 too). The web-link to that, which was being widely shared on social media, now seems to be a dead end.

But their comments on the Right to social security, under its Article 12, begin on page 17 and their conclusions on the 'Adequacy of benefits' are on pages 18 & 19. But only two words basically sum up their conclusions of UK benefits as being “manifestly inadequate”.

Of course like everything put out by the United Nations Human Rights Committees, the Government seems all too 'willing and able' to ignore the truths which they have been presented with, and carry on in their usual fashion of denials, that these are rights and not 'hand outs to the deserving poor', or a 'hand up' to the deserving workers, or job-seekers.

Returning to the questionable acts committed by the judiciary I have to mention what the UN has said about the 'Right to a fair and public hearing' which began in 1984 when they issued:-

General comment No. 13: Article 14 (Administration of justice)

1. The Committee notes that article 14 of the Covenant is of a complex nature and that different aspects of its provisions will need specific comments. All of these provisions are aimed at ensuring the proper administration of justice, and to this end uphold a series of individual rights such as equality before the courts and tribunals and the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

Of course Article 14 relates to The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which itself derived from Article 10 of the UDHR, and was similarly included in Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights too. But neither the Human Rights Act or the judiciary actually respect this as completely as they should. Because, apart from the fact that Civil Courts and Tribunals routinely conduct their business behind closed doors, they also pass judgement without all of the facts of every case being considered, or allowing anyone to be challenged about their evidence, or suppositions.

Not only does that violate the law of human rights, but also the spirit of the law and natural justice.

For example, in paragraph 13 of GC 32, the UN HRC said that:-

The right to equality before courts and tribunals also ensures equality of arms. This means that the same procedural rights are to be provided to all the parties unless distinctions are based on law and can be justified on objective and reasonable grounds, not entailing actual disadvantage or other unfairness to the defendant. There is no equality of arms if, for instance only the prosecutor, but not the defendant, is allowed to appeal a certain decision. The principle of equality between parties applies also to civil proceedings, and demands, inter alia, that each side be given the opportunity to contest all the arguments and evidence adduced by the other party.

 Yet how many people who have tried to appeal the DWP's decisions at a Tribunal, have ever had the real opportunity to challenge any DWP 'decision maker' themselves, let alone others engaged in helping them reach that decision such as 'medical assessors'? Certainly not me, not even in the last 8 years since I first began this 'journey of discovery'.

So I hope that this is enough to start you along the same road of fighting for human rights in the UK and the World at http://38d.gs/1zzrP1t for the UK & its Overseas Territories and at  http://goo.gl/rS4HKp for the World.

John Martin

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There is a momentum growing amongst psychologists who are pressing for social inequalities to be addressed. Here is a statement produced by clinical & health psychologists, calling on policy makers to address the impact social inequalities have on mental health...

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