UNISON is a leading human rights defender in day-to-day workplace situations. UNISON has also brought various direct challenges to the UK government in the Supreme Court and European Court of Justice through individual cases and judicial review. Having invoked EU law, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Magna Carta to remove tribunal fees and restore access to justice, UNISON speaks with a degree of authority on the difficulties of tackling disadvantage and promoting human rights in the UK.
As we know from our work, many fundamental rights are remote and inaccessible to ordinary people, particularly people living with poverty and economic disadvantage. The new Socio-Economic Duty (SED) must be robust and enforceable if it is to offer practical benefit to people facing poverty and disadvantage. Scotland needs to empower excluded communities. The SED presents that opportunity but the proposed implementation will be ineffective.
While we strongly welcome the Scottish government’s commitment to legislate for a socio-economic duty for public bodies we have concerns over the proposed retention of the duty as defined by the UK government in 2010. The 2010 measures were inadequate then and they are simply unlawful now.
- The powers focus on the consequences of poverty, not the causes.
- The definition of public bodies is too narrow.
- The focus on “strategic decision making” is too remote to have any practical impact on the causes of poverty, although it may ameliorate the health, crime and housing consequences of poverty.
- The obligations placed on public bodies are weak and ineffective.
- The proposal creates no meaningful or enforceable socio-economic rights for people in poverty; and,
- There are no adequate powers of enforcement and no effective remedy for individuals.
Scotland has had enough hot air from public bodies about inclusion and equality. We need effective public sector duties. And efficacy requires public law remedies that enable incompetent decisions to be challenged BEFORE they create waves of private individual litigation.