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UK Social Security Should Guarantee Adequate Living Standard

Organizations Call on Government to Implement “Essentials Guarantee”

A person holding a shopping basket in a supermarket, March 1, 2023.  © 2023 Press Association/AP Images

Faced with a cost-of-living crisis and a generational high in inflation, more than 90 organizations today called on politicians across parties in the United Kingdom to ensure social security payments are set to a level that ensures recipients can enjoy their rights and live with dignity.

The Essentials Guarantee campaign, coordinated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a leading UK anti-poverty organization, and the Trussell Trust, the country’s largest food bank network, is a landmark effort to ensure the country’s social security system can deliver on rights.

The campaign calls for legislation that would enable an independent process to determine social security payments levels – guaranteeing that people can enjoy all their rights, including the human right to an adequate standard of living – and stop the government from making debt repayment and other deductions that would bring payments below this level.

Human Rights Watch supports the campaign’s call for a clearer, more independently determined, and adequate minimum level of social security support through legislation. The harsh economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for a fair and just social protection program. This would also help ensure the UK protects the economic, social, and cultural rights it has promised to uphold.

It's clear why an Essentials Guarantee is needed. Human Rights Watch has documented the links between a decade of austerity-motivated cuts in the UK as well as limits and freezes to social security and violations of the right to food, an inadequate housing allowance system, and food insecurity for children from low-income households during the Covid-19 pandemic. In late 2021, groups mobilized against UK government plans to make a major real-terms cut to social security.

The skyrocketing price of essential foods, particularly affecting many goods people with the lowest incomes rely on, and constantly rising demand for emergency aid from food banks, which are themselves struggling with costs and supply problems, should spur politicians from all parties to act.

The social security system is supposed to ensure the fulfilment of everyone’s rights. Yet it currently leaves low-income households in financial and food insecurity. The Essentials Guarantee campaign offers a chance to recalibrate the UK’s social security so it guarantees the rights of people on the lowest incomes.

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