Human rights are a powerful tool for social change

October 31, 2007

Asserting and claiming our human rights will help secure improved public services while forging stronger ties between people.

A new booklet, entitled 'Human rights, a tool for change', published today by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) examines the role that human rights should be playing in the lives of all in the UK. It was produced following the sixth, and last, in a series of special seminars entitled 'Engaging Citizens', organised by the ESRC in collaboration with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The publication is intended to make a positive contribution to the debate about social justice, and the role of human rights in improving public services in the UK. It sets out the case for everyone to be aware of their human rights and to actively use them in their lives. In addition, the case is made by Professor Stuart Weir, director of Democratic Audit, to include social, economic and cultural rights in a Bill of Rights, along with the civil and political rights that are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

'Human rights, a tool for change' draws on presentations at a recent seminar given jointly by Katie Ghose, director of the British Institute of Human Rights, and Professor Weir. Their work is helping people and organisations in the UK realise that human rights are not granted, but must be claimed and used to bring about changes in society that will ensure social justice.

Katie Ghose believes human rights should play a role in the lives of everybody in the UK, and that this will enable them to lead their lives to the full. Currently, the potential for using human rights as a means for improving public services, increasing participation, reviving democracy and promoting social cohesion has yet to be achieved in the UK. Human rights, she urges, should be used as a tool for tackling social injustice, enhancing public services and empowering people to participate fully in society.

She says, "A 'culture of respect for human rights' has not yet taken root in the UK, despite recent plain English guidance from the Government. Service providers continue to lack confidence in human rights, and front line staff and managers continue to push such issues straight to the legal department. Nor have human rights been mainstreamed in the work of voluntary and community organisations, as campaigners or service providers, despite an eagerness to learn more."

However, Katie Ghose points to 'green shoots' that are appearing. In projects carried out by the British Institute of Human Rights and other organisations, individuals and groups are beginning to harness the inbuilt participative nature of human rights to bring about social change.

Stuart Weir suggests that powerlessness is the source of the unsatisfactory quality of many of our public services. He also underlines that: poverty, poor education, unemployment, low pay, homelessness and social isolation all violate basic human rights. He warns that they either preclude, or hinder, people from using their civil and political rights to improve their lives and from participating effectively in democratic processes. To address these inadequacies in society, he maintains there is a way forward.

He says, "If the UK is fully to protect the human rights of its citizens, it has to introduce economic, social and cultural rights into British law. For the fact is that civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights, are interdependent; and we require both sets of human rights if we are to give citizens in this country the human dignity and self-confidence necessary to lead full and fulfilled lives."
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR A COPY OF THE BOOKLET, CONTACT:
Amanda Williams at the ESRC on Tel: 01793 413126 or amanda.williams@esrc.ac.uk

FOR FURTHER DETAILS ONLY, CONTACT:
Katie Ghose on Tel: 020 7848 1818 or e-mail: kghose@bihr.org.uk
Professor Stuart Weir on Tel: 01223 327752 or e-mail: stuart.weir2@ntlworld.com

ESRC Press Office:
Danielle Moore on Tel: 01793 413122 or e-mail: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. 'Human rights, a tool for change' is published by the ESRC and follows the seminar organised in collaboration with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that took place at NCVO, Regent's Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL on Wednesday 31 October 2007. Speakers were: Katie Ghose, director of the British Institute of Human Rights, an independent charity that receives free office space and support services from the School of Law, King's College London; and Professor Stuart Weir, director of Democratic Audit, a research body attached to the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex.

2. The event was part of the seminar series 'Engaging Citizens' jointly organised by the ESRC and NCVO. Earlier seminars examined: faith-based voluntary action; how information and communications technology impacts on social capital; how individuals become involved in voluntary participation; localism and local governance; and the interaction of local causes with wider global movements and campaigns. The current seminar, 'Human rights, a tool for change', is the last in a series of six that have taken place since May 2006.

3. NCVO is the umbrella body for the voluntary sector in England. It works to support the voluntary sector and to create an environment in which voluntary organisations can flourish. It represents the views of the voluntary sector to policymakers and Government and consults with the sector to inform on issues generic to the sector. It also carries out in-depth research to promote a better understanding of the sector and its activities. NCVO has a growing membership of more than 5,200 voluntary organisations, ranging from large national charities to small local community groups. More at http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk

4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007/08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

5. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

Economic & Social Research Council

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