Guest blog: Human rights put power into the hands of those who miss out

It’s all about power. Really, when you boil human rights down to its nuts and bolts, it is about power. It is about making sure that Government cannot just do what it likes, to whoever it likes. It cannot ride roughshod over some groups or some minorities or some individuals.

Instead, human rights are really basic freedoms and needs that all governments must respect, protect and ensure that everyone has. That is everyone – not just those who shout loudest. Not only those with all the know-how to work the system. Not just those it likes. Not even those with the right immigration paperwork. Everyone.

That is why the latest Scottish Government consultation on a new Human Rights Bill is so important.

It is all about new human rights law for Scotland that should make sure that no one is left behind and no one is ignored or thought of as less important.

We already have some of our human rights in our law in the UK. These are things like freedom of expression, right to a fair trial, freedom from torture, the right not to be put in prison for no reason, and more. Every day, whether we see it directly or not, these human rights in our law – the Human Rights Act 1998 – stop governments from having too much power. Because of this, our governments at least have to justify why they are making decisions that affect any of these rights. All of our laws and policies needs to comply with them. And every day, as a last resort, people can take their governments or public bodies to court if they think these rights have been ignored or squashed.

But the big plans for new human rights law in Scotland are to bring our missing human rights into our law.

The new human rights law plan is all about also including the basic and essential human rights that we all need, sometimes called our economic, social and cultural rights. Things like the right to adequate housing, the right to adequate food, the right to equal access to healthcare services, the right to social security, the right to education, and more. And it will include environmental rights, like the right to clean air and clean water and non-toxic places to play or live.

We know that every day, people who live in poverty miss out on these basics that they need. We know that every day, people who live in poverty have no way of being listened to and holding both the UK and Scottish Governments to account on what they are doing to use all of their resources and power to put these basics in place for everyone.

By putting #AllOurRights into Scots law, people will be able to name and claim their human rights. Groups of people living in poverty will be able to demand action to address gaps. Public bodies will have to shape budgets and policies to meet these human rights for those who are missing out on them. It won’t be a panacea – it won’t be the solution to poverty. And far too often, limited understanding of human rights put together with a focus on the rhetoric over the reality, hinders real change.

But this Bill will give a legal framework that people can use to get change.  Because a right is not a right, unless it is in our law and enforceable, in court if need be.

So, the potential for this new fundamental human rights law to put power into the hands of the least-heard people, communities and minorities is quite something.

However, this Bill is far from written! And the consultation asks a whole load of questions about what the Bill should look like. This is our opportunity to shape it. We want to make sure that the Scottish Government should get this Bill passed in a way that includes #AllOurRights – for all – with teeth - and implemented in full. That’s why it is just so important for people with experience of living in poverty to tell the Government what that Bill should look like.

The consultation is open until 5th October. You can see it all online here. You can join in the online event that Poverty Alliance and Human Rights Consortium Scotland is holding about details of the consultation on 11 September at 2-4pm, you can register here.

Don’t you think it is time to put power into the hands of those who miss out every day on the basics they need to live? Now is your chance to tell the Scottish Government that.

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