Friday the 16th December 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which came into force 10 years later on the 3rd January 1976. The ICESCR incorporates  among other principles the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted prior.

The ICESCR is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The convention commits parties to work toward (among others) the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) to individuals, including:

  • labour rights,
  • right to health,
  • right to education, and
  • a right to an adequate standard of living.

Within the latter component contains the right adequate housing which is a central importance for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights which is enshrined in most major human rights instruments adopted by the United Nations[1] and the enjoyment of this right may not be subject to any form of discrimination.

The UN Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that the right to adequate housing is a core component of the right to an adequate standard of living (see, e.g., Resolutions 2002/21 and 2003/27) and its successor, the Human Rights Council, has also followed in the commissions footsteps.

Importantly, the right does not mean simply a roof. It should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace, and dignity.

The requirements for adequate housing have also been defined in General Comments 4 and 7 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. According to the Committee, the core content of the right to adequate housing includes:

a) Security of tenureSecurity of tenure is the cornerstone of the right to adequate housing. Secure tenure protects people against arbitrary eviction, harassment and other threats. Security of tenure is a key issue for all dwellers, particularly women. Women who are particularly vulnerable include those experiencing domestic violence.

b) AffordabilityThe principle of affordability stipulates simply that the amount a person or family pays for their housing must not be so high that it threatens or compromises the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs. In affluent countries, individuals and families living in poverty find it increasingly difficult to find affordable adequate housing. In many developed countries, when rental housing is unaffordable, tenants’ security of tenure is threatened as they can often be legally evicted for non-payment of rent.

c) HabitabilityFor housing to be considered adequate, it must be habitable. Inhabitants must be ensured adequate space and protection against the cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, or other threats to health, or structural hazards

d) AccessibilityHousing must be accessible to everyone. Disadvantaged groups such as the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, HIV-positive individuals, victims of natural disasters, children and other groups should be ensured some degree of priority in housing.

e) LocationFor housing to be adequate it must be situated so as to allow access to employment, health care services, schools, childcare and other social facilities. It must not be located in polluted areas.

f) Cultural adequacyThe right to adequate housing includes the right to reside in housing that is considered culturally adequate. This means that housing programmes and policies must take fully into account the cultural attributes of housing, which allow for the expression of cultural identity and recognise the cultural diversity of the world’s population.

For 50 years, the convention has been the cornerstone for the progressive way we provide housing in Wales and elsewhere around the globe. Housing professionals and activist have regarded the treaty as fundamental to how we ensure that housing continues to provide the bedrock of a civil society, because without adequate housing we cannot build society, and without society we cannot meaningfully progress our nation and all it stands for.

Now wouldn’t it be refreshing if politicians and housing professionals marked the event with an action or activity that helped a tenant improve or sustain their home as we approach Xmas. Please let us know what that action or activity was. Please RT or send your action to info@welshtenants.org.uk

[1] Article 25 UDHR; Article 11 ICESCR; Article 14 CEDAW; Article 5 CERD; Article 27 CRC; Article 43 CMW; and Article 28 CRPD. In addition, it is included in Article 31 of the European Social Charter (revised) and Article 21 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

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