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The right to housing

Housing as a social right was at the centre of a passionate case for human rights made by Baroness Shami Chakrabarti at TAI.

The Labour peer and former head of Liberty said that it was a matter of choosing sides: you either believe in human rights for everyone on the planet or you don’t.

International treaties signed by the UK guarantee social and economic rights as well as civil and political rights but all of them are under attack, she said.

The post-war Universal Declaration on Human Rights includes the right to ‘adequate housing’, something later defined as meaning more than just basic shelter and the ‘right to security, peace and dignity’.

But without security a home could not feel like a home, she said, and affordability, habitability, accessibility, location and cultural adequacy were also part of ‘adequate housing’.

However, recent UN reports have outlined how housing is losing its social function around the world and being seen instead as a vehicle for wealth and asset growth.

Leilani Farhi, the UN’s special rapporteur on adequate housing, has warned of the stark consequences of placing the interests of investors before human rights.

Shami said that one of the UN’s sustainable development goals is adequate housing for all by 2030. ‘If you’re serious about that will have to implement a human rights-based housing policy.’

However, she warned of a shift away from that in the UK.

The Westminster Government is introducing a Great Repeal Bill to incorporate EU law into UK law in the wake of Brexit. But the Bill specifically excludes the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees ‘the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources’.

And that’s just part of a bigger shift: ‘The language of rights in housing policy has often been turned completely on its head. The right to buy has ended up with complete depletion of social housing.

‘The right to rent is actually about making private landlords do immigration checks. Why would a private landlords want to risk getting it wrong. It sounds like the duty to discriminate to me.’

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