Austerity is ‘undermining’ human rights

Austerity measurers have undermined human rights in many countries across the EU, including Ireland, according to the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner.

Nils Muiznieks warned that governments and international lenders must be careful when implementing EU budget policies in future to protect economic and social rights, especially of the most vulnerable.

Governments in several countries have forgotten about such obligations when imposing cutbacks and tax increases and had not taken into account their effect on the social and economic rights of the most vulnerable, Mr Muiznieks said.

The Strasbourg-based body, which brings together 47 European countries and monitors human rights, released a research paper about the impact of the economic crisis on human rights and finds they were undermined in several ways.

Where Ireland was concerned it pointed the finger at new groups of homeless people, right to water, cuts to legal aid and to facilities for asylum seekers and migrants. The report said the crisis has been identified as a key driver of expanding homelessness in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the UK.

“New groups of homeless have emerged, with homelessness spreading among migrants, young people, women and families.”

Many people’s right to water has been affected with the troika insisting on water charges being introduced in Ireland for example, the report said.

Legal aid has been cut also in Ireland, Germany, and Britain, restricting its availability to a more limited number of cases, it pointed out. National human rights bodies should be key partners in times of economic crisis as they can help devise and promote responses to the crisis that protect people from inequality.

A report from Social Justice Ireland earlier this week said that the inequalities in Ireland were growing as a result of austerity measures with the poorest suffering a much greater drop in their incomes than the more wealthy.

The report said social security benefits and pensions for older people must be more than the poverty line, put at €210 per adult per week. Currently 16% of Irish people have less than this according to the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

Mr Muiznieks said: “National decisions on austerity measures and international rescue packages have lacked transparency, public participation and democratic accountability. In some cases, onerous conditionalities have prevented governments from investing in essential social protection, health and education programmes. When the EU as a central actor in the crisis makes decisions about economic governance in member states and when the troika sets conditions for rescue packages and loan agreements, the impact on human rights should be better taken into account,” he said.

The economic crisis has had dire consequences for vulnerable groups especially children and young people, with cuts in child and family benefits, healthcare and education adding to the strain for families, he said.

He urged governments to carry out systematic human rights and equality impact assessments of social and economic policies and budgets, especially as regards vulnerable groups of people.


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