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Welfare Reform Bill Impacts on Human Rights

30 Oct 2012

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will today provide evidence to the Social Development Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill.
NIHRC Chief Commissioner’ Professor Michael O’Flaherty’ said:
‘The Human Rights Commission recognises the aim of the Bill is to assist people into work. However we are concerned that the full impact on human rights remains unknown as the Bill is wide-ranging and leaves so much to secondary legislation.
It proposes that those in receipt of benefits will be subject to various work related requirements. Failure to comply may result in a sanction including partial withdrawal of financial assistance. The Commission is concerned that sanctions may be discriminatory. Women with childcare responsibilities and disabled people are particularly vulnerable as a consequence of the proposed changes.
The Commission has advised the Committee that the risk of people being forced into destitution is real. We have called upon the Assembly to ensure that the right to an adequate standard of living is maintained. No one as a consequence of these changes should find themselves without food’ heat or shelter.’
Further information:
For further information please contact Claire Martin 028 90243987.
Notes to editors
1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.
2. View the Commissions full submission to the Committee here.
3. The Commission is due to provide evidence to the Social Development Committee from 2.30pm today.
4. The Commission bases its position on the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards’ including the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and United Nations systems. The relevant international treaties in this context include;
• The European Convention on Human Rights’ 1950 (‘ECHR’) [UK ratification 1951];
• International Labour Organisation Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention’ 1952 [UK ratification 1954];
• European Social Charter’ 1961 [UK ratification 1962];
• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ 1966 (‘ICCPR’) [UK ratification 1976];
• The International Covenant on Economic’ Social and Cultural Rights’ 1966 (‘ICESCR’) [UK ratification 1976];
• The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’ 1979 (‘CEDAW’) [UK ratification 1986];
• The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’ 1989 (‘UNCRC’) [UK ratification 1991];
• The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons’ (UNCRPD’) [UK ratification 2009].
5. The Northern Ireland Executive is subject to the obligations contained within these international treaties by virtue of the United Kingdom’s ratification. The Commission’ therefore’ advises that the Committee scrutinises the proposed Bill for full compliance with international human rights standards.
6. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on 18 October 2012 provided the following comment on the economic crisis:
‘The global economic crisis has led to an increasing number of States slashing budgets and adopting austerity programmes’ not least in Europe. While governments may be compelled to take decisive action to improve their economic situation’ they should take great care not to introduce measures that impact on the hard-won rights of their populations’ and in particular those of the most vulnerable’ including minorities’ migrants and the poorest sectors of society who were already struggling to make ends meet. Austerity measures must respect the principle of equality and scrupulously avoid discrimination. They should be accompanied by the simultaneous adoption of measures to mitigate the effect of the crisis on the most vulnerable. In particular’ there must be safety nets in key sectors such as health and education. I am concerned that the already rancorous debate about migrants’ refugees and minorities such as the Roma in some European countries’ and elsewhere’ may lead to further discrimination and marginalization as dominant groups look to secure their own futures and search for scapegoats.’

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