In this article, Carole Ewart highlights the value of existing human rights legislation as an effective tool for supporting services towards more resilient individuals and communities.

In Sci-Fi movies, we are used to the regeneration of ‘beings’ – but in the real public policy world, the focus has been on physical structures and public places.

Appling a human rights framework to regeneration puts people first and enables a rights-based culture to define public policy decisions. Treating people, and communities, as ‘rights holders’ means our elected decision makers are complying with their statutory human rights obligations when making daily decisions on priorities and services.

Poverty is a human rights issue. The United Nations has articulated its pernicious impact but asserts that, “While the common theme underlying poor peoples’ experiences is one of powerlessness, human rights can empower individuals & communities. The challenge is to connect the powerless with the empowering potential of human rights.”

Opening a door on human rights

So why are human rights so low in the public policy agenda that affects people’s daily lives? Perhaps an examination of public sector duties on issues such as poverty, provides some clarity as it is not a door that some key decision makers seem keen to open.

Generally, people in Scotland do not know about, or exercise, their human rights. For example, the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states families should enjoy ‘the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing’ (Article 11).

Governments are obliged to take appropriate steps for the realization of this right … progressively and to the maximum extent of available resources (Article 2) even in a period of economic downturn.

The UK has assured the UN that all our laws and policies comply with such obligations. A UN hearing on UK progress in May 2009 resulted in a number of recommendations including that the Government should: “intensify its efforts to combat poverty, fuel poverty, and social exclusion, in particular with regard to the most disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups and in the most affected regions and city areas…”.

Public misunderstanding

In respect of civil and political rights, there is more awareness of the power of the European Convention on Human Rights. After all, section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the public sector to comply with ECHR and section 57 of the Scotland Act 1998 places a positive obligation on Scottish Government Ministers to comply.

The public sector covers at least 10,000 bodies including housing associations. The huge publicity given to prisoners asserting their human rights, such as Mr Napier on ‘slopping out’ and Mr Cadder on accessing a solicitor upon detention, contributed to public misunderstanding.

When people have used the ECHR, it makes a huge difference. For example Mrs Lopez Ostra complained about a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR the ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence’ due to the terrible smell from a waste treatment facility, a few metres from the family home. The European Court agreed. The problems were not, however, considered to be so serious to have violated her health.

So, human rights and regeneration do go together, both in terms of empowering individuals and local communities as well as enabling people’s lives to be improved from housing to the environment. The puzzle is why there is so little activity on using a human rights framework to deliver regeneration.