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Human rights for all

 
February 10th 2014
 

Kadra: “They say you‘re not priority. They are forcing you to do things you are not ready for. You have to do something to find somewhere to sleep.” ¬© Open Cinema

If you’ve ever gone without a shower for weeks, hunted in vain for a public drinking fountain, not had money to eat or been without a roof over your head, you have been denied your legal human rights – that’s the argument put forward by a new project that is campaigning for everyone in the UK to have access to food, shelter, water and sanitation.

The UK Commons Project (UKCRP – www.commonrights.org.uk) was launched at the House of Commons on Wednesday (18 December) by the four key organisations behind it: Housing Justice, Open Cinema, Trust for London and The Pavement (you may have heard of it).

“The project originated in some of the more blatant examples of what we thought were infringements on people’s basic human rights,” Alastair Murray, Housing Justice Director of Projects, said in his introductory speech – before name-checking Operation Poncho and Westminster’s (thwarted) attempt to made sleeping rough a criminal offence.

Val Stevenson, chair of trustees of The Pavement, said that everyone, homeless or not, should be able to relieve themselves with dignity. “Half the country’s public toilets have closed in the last decade,” she said. “Some London boroughs have none. And a drinking fountain campaign was one of Boris Johnson’s first initiatives when he came to power in 2008, but there’s been little progress. Only 11 per cent of UK public parks have water fountains – and a third of these were out of commission. How is this acceptable?”

Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and former human rights lawyer Simon Hughes also attended. In his speech he surprised many by recalling the time he slept rough as a new, young arrival to London. “There’ve been occasions when I had nowhere to go to stay at night and had to stay outside – not certain when I would next get inside and with nobody immediately available to help me. One or two nights like that are unsettling enough. So to have no guarantee of shelter for two months, two years – I can only imagine how difficult that is.”

Declaring his support for the project, he said: “I really welcome this campaign... [which] is about promoting, educating, informing everybody that there are basic standards that we should not allow people to slip away from.”

 

Implementing human rights laws

Some people dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, and the UK’s obligation to it, as ‘foreign interference’. Said Mr Hughes: “Quite often when people argue that we in Britain should abide by international standards on these [rights], very large circulation daily papers or other people have a go at saying ‘All this international rights stuff is nonsense’.”

In fact, it is this “xenophobic argument” which is nonsense, argued Professor Geraldine Van Bueren, QC, in her speech. “You’ve heard about bringing this [law] home, but actually 797 years ago these rights were British. We had in Britain something called the Charter of the Forest, one year after the Magna Carta. It established the right to housing, to food, to heating – Medieval rights that we’ve forgotten.”

Professor Van Bueren also pointed out that while prisoners are, rightly, given food, water and shelter, “these rights are not guaranteed to people who’ve never broken the law”, adding that if poorer nations in Latin America can guarantee to meet these basic needs, why can’t we? “Austerity is no defence for a violation of these rights,” she warned.

 

The human touch

For Mr Hughes, the way to win the argument against those who object to the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is “by making it personal”. One way to do that is by telling people’s stories, which is just what the UKCRP has done with the help of film network Open Cinema.

The resulting mini documentary, shown at the launch (and available to view on the UKCRP website), features several homeless or formerly homeless people talking about the basic rights denied to them – and the laws which should ensure they are not.

After conducting lots of research into the UN legal framework to incorporate into the film, director Marcus Villaseñor started shooting in October. “We had two days filming: one was organised by Housing Justice; the other by the Marylebone Project,” he told The Pavement. “We asked them [the participants] which of their rights had caused most trouble for them” – unsurprisingly shelter was at the bottom of most, but other daily struggles repeatedly came up too. Villaseñor hopes the film will be a “gateway” to lead people to the UKCRP website and read more: “There’s nothing like it. It cuts against the perception that the state should not help people [access these rights].”

John, who participated in the research for the film, used his speech at the launch to highlight various issues: the many disused properties and offices left empty while people sleep in doorways, the frustrations of the ‘local connection’ demanded by local authorities and the lack of joined-up support. “I deliberately got myself nicked, nicking food out of Sainsbury’s,” he explained. “I got four weeks in prison... I spent every day for four weeks chasing up the housing people. They sent me out homeless... What sort of system is that?”

Some of the people featured in the film were also in attendance. Amanda, who since making the film is no longer homeless, said her wish is for people who are in the situation that she was in “to see that there’s people that can be honest – and to get to the place where I’ve got to”. Ken, meanwhile, said the film was “invaluable” and called for it to be screened on TV.

The project now aims to build momentum and debate around its aims, with the help of working groups in Islington and Southwark, directing people to other charities campaigning for each of the basic rights and raising public awareness. “Now seems to me to be a really good time to draw attention to our collective responsibility to provide adequate house and so let’s step forward and demand the right to shelter for everyone,” challenged Housing Justice Director Alison Gelder.

“The provisions of the 2002 [Homelessness] Act are under attack at the moment from changing definitions in the Localism Act that have weakened the statutory duty of local authorities to house people. And the current debate about access to support for homeless migrant workers that’s going on in Parliament this week. And the policy emphasis in No Second Night Out for me begs the question – why are we talking about no second night out? Why aren’t we talking about no night out?”

[This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the February issue of the print magazine.]

 
 
 

 

Contents

New arrivals hit the streets

Soup Run Forum

Web only: Emergency Islington shelter remains open during sub-zero temperatures

Chairman of the board

Rest in peace - in memory of lost friends

Prince poses

Starter pack boost

Wearing a jacket to beg?

Teens found guilty of killing Ralph Millward

The Passage withdraws service "as a last resort"

New learning centre for Glasgow

iHobo game causes controversy

Auckland extends ban on rough sleepers

Homeless interrogation

Affordable housing development opens in Edinburgh

Who decides?

Credit unions

New counts are optional

Nobby on stage

I will never forget you, my people

London homeless services in limbo over ?Ǭ£3.28m cuts

Disused night shelter re-opened for winter months

Coventry Cyrenians forced to cut services

London hub success for new rough sleepers

Crisis Skylight in Birmingham - a year on

Residents look ahead to staff upheaval

Midland Heart report

Labour call for hefty council tax levy on empty homes

Stik pic for the American Church

Lottery grant means new opportunities

Mungo?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s launches women?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s campaign

Homeless people forced into slavery

Homeless couple marry in Australia

Number of homeless in Southend underestimated

Basic banking for all

NSNO expands into west London

Scottish homeless applications drop by 19 per cent

Miami cannibal

Invisible People film UK homeless

The demilitarised zone in North America’s drug war

2012 - the year of the right to permanent accommodation in Scotland?

Crisis at Christmas

The Pavement is recruiting

Rough sleeper donates $250 to charity

Food voucher scheme scrapped

Commemorating friends and companions

Human rights for all

First person: Gemskii on regaining control of her life

The shades come off

Upfront: spikes

Comment: Spikes are the least of your worries

Opinion: All up in smoke?

Heartbreak Hotel, episode 4.

The Pied Piper of Housing

March for the Homeless

Being homeless doesn't mean you can't vote on May 7

The vulnerability ruling

The Queen’s speech

Criminalising homelessness

116-bed hostel for young homeless to close in Southwark

Sponsor a bed and rebuild a life

Hipsters neutralise anti-homeless spikes

What the Brexit will happen now?

Anti-homelessness protesters threatened with eviction, jail by Manchester city council

Showing our impact

Rebirth

The birth of the North Gower Action Group

A pianist, an artist, a dog called George and a new homeless app

Living water

Midwinter blues?

Councils back change in law to tackle rising homelessness

Having problems with your JSA?

Mayoral hustings on homelessness

Skippering

A major step in reducing homelessness?

Liverpool Police homeless curb beggars belief

Charity begins at home?

Legal aid charade

Surviving the streets – by those who've done it

Stop the scandal

Glasgow homeless services at risk

Bill gives councils legal duty to stop homelessness

 

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© Copyright 2009-2014 The Pavement. Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656 Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760 ISSN (online) 1757-0484