Wed 3 Jul 19
What role can human rights play for communities in the UK which are experiencing extreme poverty? The University has partnered with community groups in Jaywick to discuss how understanding our rights can help us move forward.
A public meeting in Jaywick on Tuesday 2 July, featured a video message from Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, whose report made international headlines when it was published in May 2019.
Dr Andrew Fagan from Essex Human Rights Centre, Judith Bueno de Mesquita, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre Clinic and Lucy Davies from Essex Law Clinic, were joined on stage by Roy Kerr, Rebecca Rocket and Nic El Safty from Unite Community Essex, Danny Sloggett from Jaywick Sands Happy Club and Koldo Casla, Policy Director of economic and social rights charity Just Fair.
The meeting discussed what human rights are and their relevance to Jaywick, the key findings of the Alston report and the steps members of the community might take to protect their human rights.
Dr Andrew Fagan said: "It is often wrongly assumed that human rights apply only in far-off places, where people suffer the most severe forms of injustice. As Philip Alston's report on extreme poverty in the UK demonstrates, many communities in this country, including Jaywick, are being systematically exposed to conditions which no human rights-respecting government should tolerate.
“Human rights provides a tool-box for developing effective responses to such forms of injustice. No government is immune.”
In his report, published in May 2019, Professor Alston was outspoken in his criticism of the UK Government.
Discussing the government's austerity programme, he wrote: “It is hard to imagine a recipe better designed to exacerbate inequality and poverty and to undermine the life prospects of many millions.” He called for "a new vision that embodies British compassion and places social rights and economic security front and centre.”
The government initially criticised his report as presenting "a completely inaccurate picture", with Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd suggesting it was biased.
A senior civil servant in the Department of Work and Pensions subsequently commented that the report was “factually correct” and “made a lot of good points”.
Jaywick includes the "most deprived community in England", according to the most recent government figures. It was one of eleven UK communities visited by Professor Alston, his visit the culmination of a six month period of research, drawing on around eighty existing reports and over three hundred submissions from organisations in the UK.
Essex Law Clinic has been engaged in outreach work in Jaywick since early 2018. Students provide free legal advice through a monthly clinic, in partnership with Jaywick Sands Residents Association.
Student members of Essex Law Clinic have also been supporting Unite Community to study the impact of Universal Credit, and are developing links with local housing action groups.
The Human Rights Centre's work in Jaywick is part of its East Anglia Outreach programme, focused on supporting local organisations to access and exercise their human rights.
Professor Lorna McGregor, Director of the Human Rights Centre, said: "Human rights affect us all, but too often the discussion of these rights is limited to those who already enjoy prosperity or power. At Essex, we believe it's crucial we step outside our campus and engage with people whose human rights are being affected. We're grateful for this opportunity to talk further with the community in Jaywick and to play our role in helping them use the framework of human rights to find positive solutions to the many challenges they, and other communities in the UK, face."