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 last (6th periodic) report was submitted on June 30 2016. The 5th periodic report was submitted in August 2007.

The most recent review of the UK took place in June 2016, and the accompanying Concluding Observations can be accessed here

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 a List of Issues and Parallel report.
  2. Submission of parallel report. Read the Commission's submission to the 6th periodic review
  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.

As part of each review the Commission produces a list of recommendations for the Committee to ask of the UK State. For the 2016 review the Commission made a number of recommendations including:

  1. To outline the steps it has taken to give full legal effect to the Covenant in domestic law and provide an effective remedy for victims of all violations of economic, social and cultural rights in line with General Comment No. 9.
  2. To explain how it is planning to ensure that the current public spending cuts are temporary covering only the period of crisis, necessary and proportionate, non-discriminatory and ensuring the protection of a minimum core content of rights, at all times, across the UK.
  3. What steps it has taken to disseminate the Covenant and implement the Committee’s concluding observations across the UK.
  4. To indicate its plans to reduce the gender pay gap and increase gender representation in both the public and private spheres across the UK.
  5. To explain how it is planning to address gender disparities and inequality of access within Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland and what measures is putting in place to proactive support young people to progress onto positive destinations.

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