Skip to main content Skip to footer

Organisations' duties

Cost of Living

The cost-of-living crisis refers to the price of goods and essentials rising more quickly than household incomes, hitting people on low incomes particularly hard. As well as the impact on families and individuals, the crisis has placed immense pressure on public services through increasing budget cuts and staff shortages.

The Human Rights Act can, and is, being used as a powerful tool to mitigate and challenge the actions, policies, and decisions of the State across the UK as more and more people are forced into vulnerable situations. It’s also being used as a decision-making framework for staff working in public bodies to support them to take a human rights-based approach.

Public body workers have a duty to interpret laws in ways that are compatible with human rights wherever possible. This could mean ensuring any policies introduced based on funding cuts also strike a fair balance with the rights of the people affected, or it could mean not applying secondary regulations, like the “Bedroom Tax”, in situations where doing so would risk people’s human rights.

It's also important to remember that the Human Rights Act protects the rights of those working in public services as well as those accessing them. For example, it was the Article 2 right to life under the Human Rights Act that led to the inquest into the death of an NHS worker to ensure their employer had taken adequate steps to protect him from Covid. The Human Rights Act also protects trade unions and the right to protest over pay – which is particularly important at a time when many works, such as civil servants and NHS workers, are seeing a real-terms pay cut.

Key information

Who is this for:
Public bodies

Last updated
22nd November 2022

Share this

Real life stories

Article 2 issues may arise when services or treatment are refused on the basis of lack of resources and this refusal leads to loss of life.

In Asiye Genc v Turkey, Asiye gave birth to a premature baby boy, Tolga, in a public hospital. Tolga had breathing difficulties but the hospital had no suitable neonatal wards so attempted to move him to a different hospital. However, that hospital said there was no space and no incubators so sent him back to the first hospital. Tolga sadly died in the ambulance without receiving any treatment. The court said that the failure of the State to ensure smooth organisation and correct functioning of the public hospital service led to this lack of treatment and breached Tolga’s Article 2 rights.

Article 3 issues may arise when someone in particularly vulnerable circumstances is at risk of being street homeless or destitute.

Eight-year-old W was a British citizen living with his mother, J, who was a Ghanese national granted leave to remain in the UK. J’s immigration status meant that she had no recourse to public funds – meaning she was unable to access most benefits including child benefit. This is known as an NRPF condition. Although J worked as a carer for disabled people, the NRPF condition meant that she and W lived through periods of destitution, including becoming street homeless at one point. In some circumstances, the Home Office can remove the NRPF condition but the guidance to caseworkers made it sound like they could only do this if applicants are already suffering inhuman or degrading treatment. The court said that the Home Office should remove the condition when someone was about to suffer this treatment, rather than waiting for it to happen. This meant the guidance breached W’s Article 3 rights. The Home Office was ordered to rewrite the guidance and pay £3,000 damages to W.

Article 6 issues may arise when people are not given an opportunity to appeal decisions on things like benefits and housing.

Caitlin was out of work and told by the Job Centre she had to do two weeks of unpaid training and two weeks of unpaid work at Poundland to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance. She was not given any written information about the scheme. Jamieson was also out of work and told he had to do up to six months of unpaid, near fulltime work for a private company and had to perform “any activities” requested of him without further information. When he refused, his benefits were sanctioned. The court found these schemes unlawful but Parliament then changed the law before the case had finished to make them lawful and avoid paying damages. Caitlin returned to court and it was found that this was clearly designed to influence her legal case and so interfered with her right to a fair trial. The court said it is now up to Parliament to decide whether to change the law.

Article 8 issues may arise when austerity measures mean someone is not offered adequate support.

Following a stroke Ms McDonald needed help to get around her house and was unable to use the toilet at night. The local authority – Kensington and Chelsea – originally provided Ms McDonald with an overnight carer, however this care package was suddenly withdrawn and she was told instead to use incontinence pads at night. As she was not incontinent Ms McDonald refused to do this, and understandably felt that to act as though she was incontinent was an affront to her dignity. The court said that making this decision without a re-assessment of Ms McDonald’s needs would breach her Article 8 rights – but this was mitigated by the council providing interim care. The council did then carry out a Care Review, in which it was entitled to find the overnight care a disproportionate use of its limited budget, but the court did importantly highlight that this needed to be balanced against right to dignity and an objective account of Ms McDonald’s “safety, independence, autonomy and personal integrity”.

Article 14 issues may arise when certain groups of people are disproportionately impacted by laws or policies.

RR lived in a two-bed home with his disabled partner, using the second bedroom for storing medical supplies. His housing benefit was reduced because this was deemed a “spare bedroom”. The court found that applying the bedroom tax in this way discriminated against disabled people and interfered with their Article 8 right to private life. This finding was hugely significant for RR and for the 130 couples with similar cases which were postponed until this case was decided.

Article 1, Protocol 1 issues may arise when people’s housing or benefits are interfered with, as these are classified as “possessions”.

Lee provided regular care and support to his grandmother, who had severe health difficulties. He had his Carer’s Allowance reduced as a result of the benefit cap which meant he was close to destitution. His allowance was classified as a “possession” and this interference with it was found to be unlawful and discriminatory under Article 14 (the right to be free from discrimination) as the benefit cap disproportionately impacts people caring for disabled people. After this judgment, people in receipt of Carer’s Allowance were made exempt from the benefit cap.

Stay up-to-date

Get our newsletter

Get monthly updates on UK human rights law and our work, resources and events sent straight to your inbox.