Protection of economic and social rights in Scotland

Date: 10th December 2014
Category: Other human rights treaties and mechanisms

As Scotland celebrated Human Rights Day and the one year anniversary of Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights on 10th December 2014, the current framework of economic and social rights in Scotland was debated and a Holyrood article has pulled some key discussion points together.

Alan Miller, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) stated that "Tackling poverty is not about charity, it is not about policy, it's about justice and it's about rights to live a life of dignity free of poverty." The framework of economic and social rights that are conducive to this, such as adequate housing, education, rights at work and the highest attainable standard of health, is 'somewhat shakier' than it is for protection of civil and political rights.

Economic and social rights protection in the UK and further afield has come into sharper focus as a result of the latest economic crisis. In Ireland, for instance, austerity measures were seen as a "crucial factor in galvanising support for the inclusion of economic and social rights" within the scope of proposed amendments to the constitution, says Professor Aoife Nolan.

Models of economic and social protection differ significantly worldwide, and this has led to discussion on how Scotland might move forward in the absence of a written constitution. Professor Aoife Nolan joined James Wolffe QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, at a seminar earlier this month in Edinburgh to consider that question (find out more here).

The Smith Commission, set out to agree the detail to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the UK, published its final report on 27th November 2014. Recommendation 60 in the report stated "the Scottish Parliament can legislate in relation to socio-economic rights in devolved areas" although there is a lack of clarity of what this specifically entails.

A key provision of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is Article 4, requiring that States Parties undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties must undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation. This is similar to Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has also ratified.