20 February 2020

Today is the World Day for Social Justice. According to the UN Social Justice is:

“…an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality, or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.”

In order to uphold these principles of social justice and remove some of the barriers that people face we, as a society, need to ensure that people are:

These values, as well as being essential for social justice, are at the very heart of human rights. Social Justice is all about working towards a more equal society. Part of this is ensuring that people are treated with dignity and respect by those with public power, also the main goal of human rights. 

However, human rights are not just values. Human rights are set out in law and they set the rules on how the state should treat individuals. This means human rights can be a powerful tool to enable us to achieve social justice, anchoring our actions in the law rather than values alone, which can be stretched or become optional especially in difficult times or situations.

The UK's Human Rights Act brings protections from the European Convention on Human Rights  (itself based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) into our law, and created domestic legal duties to secure their implementation. Traditionally these rights have been seen as civil and political, which tend to focus on aspects like due process and justice and participation in democracy. Whereas economic, social and cultural rights tend to look at issues such as health, welfare, and living standards.

However, as the European Court of Human rights has noted: 

"The mere fact that an interpretation of the Convention may extend into the sphere of social and economic rights should not be a decisive factor against such an interpretation; there is no watertight division separating that sphere from the field covered by the Convention."

A significant proportion of BIHR's work focuses on areas traditionally seen as economic and social, ,and more closely linked with social justice, such as health, housing, care provision and social support. We believe the potential of the Human Rights Act, to enable people to flourish across all aspects of their lives, has not yet been realised. We are committed to enabling people to make the best use of their protections and the duties of public officials under this law to create social change beyond the courtrooms. We work every day to support the use of human rights advocacy and approaches to achieve positive social change. We work with:

This is vital for the people we work with, it is about the real change they experience, the increased social justice that affects them. Importantly, this work also shows why the Human Rights Act (with its rights and duties) are important for us all and integral ro the UK's position as a modern democracy. Human rights advocacy and approaches can achieve positive social change, which we see every day we through our work to transform both individual lives and organisational cultures and decision making that impacts us all

However, we have a long way to go to "remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability". Therefore it is fundamental to BIHR to ensure we develop practical change through human work with communities across the UK, and the decision makers in those areas and nationally. This evidences the positive story of the Human Rights Acts' impact for everyone. At a time when the political noise around the Act is increasing, it is these real life stories which are needed to secure our law, rights and duties in the UK's legal framework. The Human Rights Act has achieved much, much which rarely features in the rhetoric, but which makes a genuine difference to people every single day. We must continue to realise its potential and ensure it can be used as a tool to achieve social justice for many years to come.


Find out more about BIHR's work:


Read our blog, 'The Value of Human Rights in Health and Social Care: from Covid-19 and beyond'