Skip to main content

Human Rights, Equality and Public Spending Cuts

Contact

James Harrison

for further information about this project.

Cuts to public spending are likely to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. It is therefore important to analyse very carefully what the impact of multiple cuts by a range of different agencies are likely to be on affected groups and individuals.

The Centre’s work in this field includes:
  • Undertaking our own analysis of the human rights and equality impact of the spending cuts on vulnerable groups and individuals.
  • Examining the analysis undertaken by public authorities and suggesting how it can be enhanced.
  • Developing resources to help civil society groups, legal practitioners, public authorities and trade unions in their future actions with regard to public spending decisions.
  • Creating spaces for dialogues between public authorities and affected groups and individuals about public spending decisions.

Further Information

Both 'Unravelling Equality and 'Feeling the Pinch' have had a huge impact both in Coventry and nationally. They bring together all the different effects of the cuts and demonstrate clearly how it is the combined impact that is most devastating. I am often down in Westminster and see both MPs and peers carrying around copies of these reports with them and referring to them frequently - they should be compulsory reading.
Cllr Ann Lucas, Cabinet Member, Health and Community Services

Since 2010, The Centre for Human Rights in Practice (CHRP) and Coventry Women's Voices (CWV) have been undertaking a joint project to assess the human rights and equality impacts of the public spending cuts.

The first report, launched in May 2011, Unravelling Equality?: A Human Rights and Equality Impact Assessment on the spending cuts on women in Coventry highlighted the impact of a range of public spending cuts on women. Access the Full Report and Executive Summary here.

The Centre's 2nd report, highlighting the impact of the public spending cuts on older women, was launched at the Herbert Gallery on 19 July 2012. The report is entitled Getting off Lightly or Feeling the Pinch?: A Human Rights and Equality Impact Assessment of the Public Spending Cuts on Older Women in Coventry. Access the Full Report and Executive Summary here.

A 3rd report, highlighting the impact of public spending cuts on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women, was launched on 9 July 2013 at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry. The report is entitled Layers of Inequality: A Human Rights and Equality Impact Assessment of the Public Spending Cuts on Women in Coventry. Access the Full Report and Executive Summary here.

In September 2014, the Centre undertook a specific investigation into the impact of benefit sanctions on people in Coventry with Coventry Law Centre, Coventry Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Coventry Women’s Voices. The full report entitled The impact of benefit sanctions on people in Coventry (Mary-Ann Stephenson, 2014) is available here.

Since 2011, The Centre has been monitoring the impact of legal aid cuts on vulnerable groups. The aim of this research is to provide a robust evidence base for the impact of the cuts that can be used by others to campaign for change. It is also intended to explore the different structures for the delivery of legal advice that emerge as a result of the cuts, and to evaluate their efficacy in enabling individuals to access justice.

This theme is also developed through the ESRC Collaborative PhD project on Investigating Cuts and Changes to Legal Advice Services.

"Access to Justice: A Comparative Analysis of Cuts to Legal Aid" An Expert Workshop Organised by the University of Warwick in Conjunction with Monash University. More information about the Monash-Warwick Access to Justice workshop can be found here.
A report of the Warwick workshop, from 19 March 2014, is available here. On 21 July 2014, a workshop was held at Monash University; the report for that workshop is available here.


Report : The impact of cuts to civil legal aid on practitioners and their clients

Centre member Natalie Byrom joined forces with the founders of ilegal to capture the impact of the cuts to civil legal aid on professionals working in the sector and their clients. A survey was launched to explore the long term impact of the £350 million cuts introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) on expertise within the legal aid funded civil law sector. In total, 674 individuals responded. The report was published on 8 April 2013, and has received extensive media coverage in the mainstream and legal press.

This ESRC-Funded Collaborative PhD will examine the impact of the imminent cuts to legal advice services, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. It will examine the different models that are being developed to deal with these cuts by particular legal services providers – with a focus on Law Centres.

The project is a collaboration between the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in the School of Law at the University of Warwick, the Law Centres Federation and Coventry Law Centre. It will involve working closely with these institutions. The academic supervisor is Dr. James Harrison.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (currently passing through Parliament) will introduce up to £350 million of cuts to funding in legal aid services in April 2013. The Bill is likely to cut funding for advice on debt, employment, housing, family, immigration, welfare benefits and some other areas. It will also impact who can get legal aid, by asking people on low incomes to pay more towards their legal advice and by reducing the lowest fees for civil advice. Many legal service providers, such as Law Centres, are also facing cuts to other sources of funding (e.g. from local authorities).

This PhD will help to address the need for research which examines the actual impact of these cuts to legal advice services, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. It will examine how legal advice providers are responding to these cuts to funding and the different models that are being developed to deal with these changes.

The PhD will build upon the expertise developed by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in research which uses the norms and standards of human rights and equality law in order to analysis the impacts of policies and practices.

This ESRC-Funded Collaborative PhD is investigating the human rights and equality impacts of welfare reform, public spending cuts and cost of living increases on vulnerable groups and individuals in Coventry.

The project is a collaboration between the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in the School of Law at the University of Warwick and Coventry City Council. The phd student is Wendy Eades and the academic supervisor is Dr. James Harrison.

There is significant research which demonstrates how welfare reform, cuts to public services and increases in costs of living are likely to have the greatest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable groups. For instance:

  • Research from Sheffield Hallam University has mapped the impact of welfare reform and how it is hitting the poorest places hardest.[1]
  • Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has demonstrated how cuts to benefits and changes to tax will have the greatest impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged.[2]
  • The Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group have shown how poor women in particular will be badly hit by cuts to public services and welfare benefits.[3]
  • Disability Alliance has shown how spending cuts announced by the Coalition Government are likely to significantly increase the number of disabled people living in poverty.[4]

At the same time, central government policymakers have suggested that a number of the welfare benefit reforms will, for instance, reduce welfare dependency and poverty and lead to more individuals seeking and obtaining (better paid work). [5] Researchers are increasingly examining what the differentiated impacts (both positive and negative) of particular welfare reforms are on particular groups.[6]

There is a strong need for research which examines the actual impact of these cuts and reforms, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and what is happening to their ‘lived experience’ in order to better inform these polarized debates. This Collaborative PhD will contribute to such research efforts.

The PhD will build upon the expertise developed by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in research which uses the norms and standards of human rights and equality law in order to analysis the impacts of policies and practices.

Particularly relevant to the current project is the work of the Centre on the human rights and equality impacts of the public spending cuts on women in Coventry.

The research will involve studying the individuals and families who are being affected by a range of welfare reforms and other spending cuts, and whose underlying situation (because of poverty, disability etc.) means that they will be particularly likely to be vulnerable to significant effects as a result of those reforms/cuts and any increases in cost of living. The research will explore the possibilities of welfare reform having both positive and negative impacts on the groups and individuals studied.

This PhD will therefore involve mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) research into the impact of the public spending cuts and welfare reform on vulnerable groups and individuals in Coventry. By using the extensive quantitative data which Coventry City Council has collected in relation to families and individuals who are impacted by multiple aspects of the welfare reform agenda (e.g. the welfare benefits cap, the ‘bedroom tax’ etc.) the researcher will develop a ‘vulnerability index’ by which to identify particular individuals and families who appear to be particularly likely to be significantly impacted by reforms, cuts and any increased living costs and whose underlying situation (because of poverty, disability etc.) means that they would be particularly likely to be vulnerable to significant effects as a result of those reforms/cuts. These individuals and families will also be selected on the basis of their representativeness in relation to a range of other groups and individuals in Coventry.

The research project will then utilise a range of qualitative research methods to generate rich, detailed, textured data about individuals/families and their lived experience in order to understand the holistic impacts of the cuts and changes on their lives.

At the local level, this research will provide insights about the extent to which different groups of people affected by welfare reforms are coping and where there are opportunities for local organisations to intervene to maximise individual resilience and mitigate the risk of increasing dependence upon local services.

At a national level the research is expected to provide robust empirical evidence of the actual impact of cuts and reforms, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, in order to better inform existing debates.

It is expected that the successful candidate will therefore directly engage with policymakers at the local level, and report on findings of the research as it is progressing. Coventry City Council and the Centre for Human Rights in Practice will also facilitate engagement with national networks in order to more widely disseminate the research findings and identify key lessons from research being undertaken elsewhere.

[1] Beatty and Fothergill, Hitting the Poorest Hardest: The Local and National Impact of Welfare Reform (Sheffield Hallam University, 2013). Find out more here.

[2] E.g. James Browne and Peter Levell, The distributional effect of tax and benefit reforms to be introduced between June 2010 and April 2014: a revised assessment, (Institute of Fiscal Studies, 2010) available here.

[3] E.g. UK Women’s Budget Group, The Impact on Women of the Budget 2011, (April 2011) available at here.

[4] E.g. Disability Alliance, Emergency Budget Summary, (30 November 2010), available here.

[5] See e.g. Department of Work and Pensions ‘Simplifying the welfare system and making sure work pays’ here.

[6] See e.g. Donald Hirsch and Yvette Hartfree, Does Universal Credit enable households to reach a minimum income standard? (2013, Joseph Rowntree Foundation) available here.

In April 2010, James Harrison, Mary Ann-Stephenson and Andrew Williams were commissioned by the Scottish Human Rights Commission to review all the practice of conducting human rights impact assessments in the UK and internationally and to produce guiding principles for conducting future human rights impact assessments.

Their final report includes and eight-step process that can be utilised in any HRIA process and detailed recommendations for how those eight steps should be implemented. The report also includes illustrations of how this HRIA process will function.

The Centre continues to work with SHRC on pilot studies which adopt a new approach to integrated equality and human rights impact assessments in Fife and Renfrewshire Councils. You can read more about the project here.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights' Report on the Implementation of the Right of Disabled People to Independent Living has recommended that the Government should publish an integrated human rights and equality impact assessment of the likely cumulative impact of the proposals on independent living - based on the methodology which CHRP has been developing for SHRC.

The Centre receives regular requests for assistance and advice from a range of actors including public authorities, civil society groups, trade unions and legal practitioners in relation to their work on the public spending cuts. Where we have capacity, we provide whatever advice and assistance we can.

We have now created a Resource Database which contains resources to support organisations, groups and individuals who wish to carry out Equality and/or Human Rights Impact Assessments of the public spending cuts or to use human rights or equality legislation to challenge public spending cuts.

Some of our other key activities and achievements include:

  • For five years, the Centre for Human Rights in Practice worked with the Scottish Human Rights Commission to create a new model for undertaking equality and human rights impact assessments in Scotland. A set of resources were created in relation to that process which are available here.
  • On 6 November 2012, the Centre for Human Rights in Practice held an expert seminar at the University of Warwick. The seminar brought together academics, civil society activists, legal practitioners, and trade union representatives to share their experience of using human rights and equality standards to analyse and challenge the public spending cuts. The report of the seminar is available here.
  • Mary-Ann Stephenson produced a toolkit ‘Women and the Cuts toolkit for the TUC on explaining how to carry out a human rights and equality impact assessment of the spending cuts on women," based on our work in Coventry

The Centres’ Human Rights and Equality Impact Assessments and Mary-Ann’s toolkit have also been utilised as a template for assessments by other groups around the country, including:

On 10 February 2014, the Centre for Human Rights in Practice held an expert roundtable discussion to to explore ways in which equality and human rights legislation can be used to monitor, analyse and challenge welfare benefit sanctions policy and practice. The report of this event is available here.

More information about the Toolkit and how it has been used can be found here.