The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) commits all State parties (currently 160) to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of all individuals. It was adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. The UK ratified ICESCR on 20 May 1976.

ICESCR protects the right to:

  • an adequate standard of living;
  • highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
  • education;
  • social security;
  • work and fair treatment at work.

The Convention recognises the right of all persons to self-determination, including the self-determination of political status; economic, social and cultural goals; and the management and disposal of their resources. It also sets out the principle of “progressive realisation” which underpins the whole Covenant.

ICESCR, when combined with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), makes up what is referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights. There are currently 23 General Comments which clarify the scope and content of ICESCR’s provisions.

State parties are obliged to produce reports to the Committee which outline progress and legislative, judicial and policy measures taken to fulfil their obligations under the Convention. Each State is expected to submit a report approximately two years after consenting to the Convention and then every five years thereafter, or otherwise as directed by the Committee.

The UK is now engaged in its next review cycle

Since the end of the last ICESCR review in 2016, the UK has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, cost of living crisis and legal changes following Brexit.

There’ve also been major international issues such as rising energy costs and the impact of climate change on food security and global inequalities, especially with vulnerable groups.

The Commission’s report, submitted in 2022, warns the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that these issues, especially over the past 12 months, are putting people’s rights at risk. For example, soaring housing costs are making people more vulnerable to homelessness and the cost of basic essentials such as food, heating or transportation, is jeopardising people’s rights to an adequate standard of living.

As part of the current review cycle, the UK government submitted its 7th periodic report in May 2022. The Scottish Government also submitted a Position Statement, setting out action taken in devolved areas to implement ICESCR in Scotland.

The Concluding Observations from the previous review held in 2016 can be accessed on the UN Treaty Body database.

NHRI Engagement

In order to support the UK review of ICESCR, the Commission undertakes a number of activities, including:

  1. Capacity building and consultation ‎with Civil Society to prepare an NHRI report which informs the List of Issues for the UK to respond to. The Committee considered our report at a pre-sessional working group in March 2023, along with submissions from other NHRIs and civil society organisations. It published the List of Issues for the UK on 23 March 2023. 
  2. Submission of parallel report to inform the review. Read the Commission's submission to the previous review in 2016.  The Commission will begin to prepare its next parallel report in 2024.
  3. Provide oral evidence and attend the UK State Review
  4. Meet with the Committee members‎ and/or country rapporteur 
  5. Meet the UK Government representative before and after the review in Geneva.
  6. Monitor the implementation of recommendations between cycles

Civil Society Engagement

Civil society has the potential to engage with this treaty in a number of ways:

  1. Submitting written information to the Committee
  2. Submitting an alternative report
  3. Providing information for the list of issues
  4. Attending Sessions and Making Oral Submissions to the Committee