Awareness of fundamental Human Rights would help eradicate much of the inequality being experienced in Scotland today.
Glasgow Human Rights Network gave a platform to three leading exponents of the theme: Poverty is a Human Rights violation. Hosted in Glasgow City Chambers and welcomed by Bailie Jim Scanlon, the event attracted around 50 people on Thursday 17 October 2013.
Kate Lauchlin – a seasoned community campaigner in Partick and now working on her PhD on Human Rights at the University of the West of Scotland, set the scene: ‘Not only is it an outrage that poverty is a violation of Human Rights, it is enshrined in international law that poverty is a violation of Human Rights.’ United Nations conventions, continental ‘groupings’ and national constitutions all set down human rights. But those international conventions the UK has signed, are still awaiting ratification in many cases, she pointed out.
Among the intrinsic human rights are the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to a home which includes local family and community interaction and is much more than just a ‘house’; the right to a free choice to work, the right to social security, the right to take part in cultural life.
An illustration of a dove carrying human rights on its wings but with the bird encased in a cage, summed up the UK’s position on human rights for her, she said.
Part of the solution was for the country to ‘invest in the human rights culture. It matters.’ She said: ‘As far back as 2009 the United Nations’ Economic and Social and Cultural Rights inspectorate was concerned with the low level of awareness of human rights in the UK among all strata of society.’ If human rights were to be integrated into something like the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, it would make a difference.
Another speaker was Tricia McConalogue of Bridging the Gap an organisation working in the Gorbals supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
She said that people needed to challenge the frequently presented- often Government originated – ideas that people in poverty could be used as a scapegoat. ‘If this isn’t challenged, it is accepted as fact and that is simply not the truth,’ she said.
Having been most of the day standing outside the City Chambers at the Poverty Stone in George Square hearing testimony from people in poverty, Tricia elected to sit to share her thoughts and experience.
She said: ‘Poverty today in Glasgow is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime.’ She gave details of individual situations when people receiving food from a foodbank could not afford to cook it. Of people being ‘sanctioned’ at the Job Centre even when they had found a job. Sanctioned means that person would be denied any benefits for a period of time because of some infringement of rules which frequently was an administrative mistake.
She also mentioned how people with mental health issues could be left terrified by any appeals process they may have to face. ‘If they are deemed fit for a job, where does that leave them to recover from their mental health issues?’ she asked. Tricia said she’d been moved to tears recently by some of the people she’d talked to – including one young man who was contemplating suicide because of the way he was being treated.
The final speaker was academic and former Amnesty worker Duncan Wilson who represented the Scottish Human Rights Commission. The Commission is working with public bodies – such as the National Health Service – and the third sector to develop Scotland’s first National Action Plan.
Voicing the question: ‘Is poverty a violation of Human Rights?’ Duncan said: ‘To some people it isn’t as clear as torture, for example. But I think it is clear there is a a very strong case to be made for poverty to be seen as a violation of Human Rights.’
He defined poverty as the denial of freedom to live, to develop, to be free from hunger and to be free to take part in society. Around the world, these freedoms are denied. Official reports suggest the issues have been addressed ‘A government report says they’ve achieve their target of having no slums, for example. But what they’ve actually done is clear the land where the slums were- leaving 100,000 people without any place to stay.’
New United Nations targets are to start from 2015 when the UN Millenium Goals programme will be completed. ‘New goals will not be achieved without accountability being incorporated in the framework of any programme. Accountability is lacking in the current framework,’ he said.
He said that poverty exist all over the world – even in Glasgow. ‘Just take a train from Hyndland in the West End to Bridgeton in the East End. There is a difference of ten years’ life expectancy among men in that short journey.
Among the ways to address poverty were that those with the least should be the last to take any cuts. ’That is a fundamental principle of Human Rights, he said.
He instanced people in Edinburgh using candles because they couldn’t afford to switch on electricity. ‘This is the 21st century in the capital of Scotland!!’ he emphasised. ‘
He also said that people working in public services should be empowered to prevent problems rather than having to implement bad decisons of the authorities. He commended the Poverty Truth Commission which stood by its motto: ‘Nothing about us , without us, is for us.’
‘The participation of people and the information they need to understand and take part in those decision is what is needed, especially for the most marginalised.’
Scotland’s first ever Action Plan for Human Rights will be a ‘roadmap’ for everyone at home, in school, at work or anywhere, he said. Expected to be launched next year it will empower people to know about their Human Rights, to take part in decisions, to address stigma and to increase the ability of those delivering services to ‘get it right more often.’
Dr Vikki Turbine of Glasgow University Human Rights Network thanked the panel and said it was an inspiring start to further conversations which would help protect, respect and fulfil Human Rights in Scotland and help produce solutions to poverty.
In true Maryhill style, the official opening of the £9.6 million revamped Maryhill Burgh Halls, attracted protesters.
A crowd of local schoolboys, complete with bikes and skateboards, marched into the invitation only evening on Thursday 26 April. And the VIPs arriving had to walk past an array of banners held by determined grannies demanding justice for Kinship Carers.
They, and the official guests, were serenaded in proper Scottish style, by professional piper Chris Waite at the door. He was one of the Jim Jam Ceilidh Band musicians who entertained, later, inside.
The boys told this website reporter earnestly:’We should be allowed in,’ said Rhys McNally (14). ‘It’s discrimination that we are not.’ His pal Mitchell McGowan Ross (13) added: ‘We’re normal people. We deserve the right to go in. The place should be open to the whole public.’ They were politely, but firmly, shown the door by courteous door stewards and trundled back outside.
Choosing to remain outside with their placards and banners were the Kinship Carers. All local women who look after children – usually their own grandchildren – when the parents cannot; they had lobbied earlier in the day outside Glasgow City Chambers. ‘If we fostered a stranger’s child we’d get £300 a week to look after them. Because the children are family, we get £50 a week and none of the important psychological help,’ explained Liz Lynch. In a campaign co-ordinated across Scotland, Kinship Carers met candidates of all parties to demand they sign up for the Kinship Carers’ national manifesto.
It asks for pledges from incoming councillors to:- end the postcode lottery across Scotland for Kinship Care support to ensure that every child had a fair and equal chance.
To:- create a one-stop shop approach to the necessary financial, health, psychological, educational and social work support. ‘Getting any one of these can be a huge struggle for Kinship Carers,’ said supporter Miriam Rose of the Poverty Truth Commission.
To:- recognise the hard job Kinship Carers do and how well they do it and to support them with respite and legal advice among other issues.
Would be councillors were also called on to work with the Kinship Carers when making policy so that funds are used wisely to benefit the children.
On arrival, Lord Provost Bob Winter stood and chatted with them while he put on his chain of office and was happy to pose with them. ‘I saw them earlier today at the City Chambers and support them,’ he said.
The date of 26 April was chosen for the re-opening of the Maryhill Burgh Halls because it was on that date 134 years ago they were originally opened. Already major events have been held in the beautifully re-furbished suites of rooms which include a business centre, a nursery, a cafe a recording studio and exhibition and halls space. Performing the opening this time, was Culture Secretary MSP Fiona Hyslop.
Pride of place in the Halls are original stained glass windows which – uniquely – depict workers in Maryhill in those far off days. They show men working with wood and metal and women working with dyes. Descendants of glass artists Joseph Miller and of the Provost of Maryhill in 1878, were also present at the 2012 opening.
The beauties of the windows and the well-thought-out interior will be available for the public to enjoy on Saturday 28 April from 10am till 4pm. There will be free tours of the buildings, talks, entertainment and samples of what activities will be available, regularly, in the Maryhill Burgh Halls. The boys will be back! And the Kinship Carers might even bring their children too.