UN slams UK austerity in damning housing and human rights report

Nathanael Williams

International spotlight thrown on Scotland as UN questions UK austerity

EVIDENCE from The Govan Law Centre (GLC) contributed to the newly-released United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic and Social Rights report on housing and human rights in the UK.

The UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights reviews countries’ progress on housing every six years and last month it reviewed the UK’s record since 2008.

The UN report found UK-wide performance on housing rights to be “severely lacking”.

GLC said it had recommended a list of 11 questions from its own report for the UN Committee to ask the UK at the UN rights review in Geneva in November, and many of these were reflected in the UN Committee’s own recommendations.

On 8 July, GLC said: “The UK and Scottish Governments must always be raising living standards and not violating the human right to an adequate standard of living by rolling housing standards back.”

“We intend to continue reporting to the UN to let them know the real story of what is happening in our communities.” Dee Flanigan 

GLC continually expressed concern that living standards in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland have been decreasing in recent years as a result of austerity and cuts to services.

The organisation provides free legal service, research and court and tribunal representation in the areas of Glasgow’s east and south. 

The UN report submitted to the committee, ‘Right to adequate housing’, went on to say: “What many people perhaps don’t realise is that this decline is a human rights issue and the UK has an obligation under international human rights law to always be progressively realising economic and social rights.”

With specific reference to Glasgow City Council, the GLC report said: “GCC breach their statutory duty to provide temporary accommodation in housing cases up for review.”

“The Scottish Government will work with local authorities, developers and community groups to develop more detailed proposals for reform.” Kevin Stewart 

The author of the Govan Law Centre report, Dee Flanigan, said: “Some of this information was directly from test cases being pursued by our Public Interest Litigation Unit (PILU).

“This Unit’s purpose is to plan to use the UN Committee’s recommendations to set priorities for future cases. Two of our clients, Scott and Wadzanayi, also contributed by telling their own stories.”

No comment in response was given by Glasgow City Council when asked by CommonSpace.

GLC conducted and submitted its own parallel report to let the UN know about the housing issues affecting the communities and individuals it serves. The report told the UN committee about homelessness and rough sleeping in Glasgow, and experiences of tenants in the private rented sector. It additionally covered those with disabilities who have been threatened with losing their homes, and the housing rights of asylum seekers.

The UN Committee report criticised austerity measures saying that they were “seriously concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups”.

Flanagan added: “We are meeting with the Scottish Government next month to discuss the recommendations. 

“We intend to continue reporting to the UN to let them know the real story of what is happening in our communities.”

Meanwhile, according to Shelter Scotland, 150,000 families and individuals are on waiting lists for a home. Last year over 36,000 homelessness applications were made by households in Scotland. There are currently approximately 34,000 long-term private empty homes across Scotland.

An annual report by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) stated that almost 700 private empty properties were identified and brought back into use in the last year alone.

It did, however, highlight the need for more to be done across Scotland to address the issue of long-term empty homes and housing conditions. Among its own recommendations, SEHP called for legislation of a ‘compulsory sale order’ power for vacant and derelict land and properties.

Last year there were over 36,000 homelessness applications were made by households in Scotland. – Shelter Scotland

Kristen Hubert, Scottish Empty Homes Partnership national manager, said: “More than half of local authorities tell us that the introduction of a compulsory sale order would be very useful in enabling them to be more effective in bringing empty homes back into use, to help with the housing crisis.”

The compulsory sale order power would grant local authorities the ability to force long-term empty properties or pieces of land on to the open market if they have not been used in three years and show no prospect of re-use.

In its 2016 election manifesto the SNP stated that it would legislate for compulsory purchase in certain circumstances including “wilful neglect and persistent bad land and housing management”.

Scottish Government Housing Minister Kevin Stewart, in a press release today, said: “These impressive results demonstrate the hard work of the partnership and the network of empty homes officers to ensure as many empty homes are brought back into use as possible.

“The Scottish Government will work with local authorities, developers and community groups to develop more detailed proposals for reform, which will be fully consulted on later this year. This will pave the way for a new Planning Bill to be brought forward to the Scottish Parliament in 2017.”

Picture courtsey of Stephano Costa

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