Evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee, Scottish Parliament

Today Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee which is considering the UK Welfare Reform Act.

During his evidence Professor Miller raised several points with the Committee Members regarding the failure of the UK Government to meet its legal obligations within the United Nations framework of international human rights treaties. Such treaties include such economic and social rights as the “right to social security” and he argued that the UK public debate would be better served by reference to such a framework rather then the stigmatisation associated with “welfare reform”.  This framework, used by other countries, provides guidance to governments, even in times of austerity, to ensure that limited resources are used fairly and enable everyone to live a life of human dignity.

Professor Miller pointed out that certain measures under the Welfare Reform Act  had already created  insecurity among the public who were left with too few legal options to protect themselves due to the refusal of the UK to incorporate such universally recognised human rights treaties into domestic law.

He expressed concern about the discriminatory effect of some of the social security cuts on disabled people. He similarly expressed concern that the loss of one’s home, as a result of the “bedroom tax”, could breach the right to private, family and home life protected by the Human Rights Act. He added that some extreme cases of destitution caused by the cumulative effect of cuts could amount to inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited by the Human Rights Act.

Professor Miller outlined some of the consequent difficulties as well as responsibilities of  public authorities in Scotland and called for an urgent review by the Department of Work and Pensions of certain measures of the Welfare Reform Act. In particular he called upon the Department to consider alternative measures with regards to the “bedroom tax” as part of a human rights impact assessment which should have preceded the legislation.

Moreover he advised that the main lesson for the future is the need to incorporate into domestic law the international treaty obligations which protect the rights to social security, adequate housing, an adequate standard of living and other economic, social and cultural rights.

Written evidence to the Committee has also been published today SubmissiontoWelfareReformCommitteeMay2013.doc.

The session is available on Parliament TV and can be accessed here http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/49961.aspx.