The Committee considered the third periodic report of
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
on the rights covered by articles 1 to 15 of the Covenant
(E/C.12/1994/19) at its 36th to 38th meetings, held on
24 and 25 November 1997, and adopted , at its 53rd meeting,
held on 4 December 1997, the following concluding observations.
The Committee notes that the report submitted by the State
party has been prepared in accordance with the Committee's
guidelines. It welcomes the presence of a large and high-level
delegation from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland and notes that the very high quality
of the dialogue was enhanced by the presence of a specialist
to deal with virtually every article of the Covenant.
It further appreciates the extensive and detailed replies
to the Committee's list of questions which greatly facilitated
the dialogue. The Committee observes with satisfaction
that the information provided in the third periodic report,
and in reply to both written and oral questions, enabled
it to obtain a comprehensive view of the extent of the
State party's compliance with its obligations under the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
B. Positive aspects
The Committee notes the extensive and elaborate administrative
infrastructure that exists in the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland to facilitate giving effect
to the provisions of the Covenant.
The Committee welcomes, in particular, the following new
initiatives of the British Government:
(a) The "welfare to work initiative" designed to provide
enhanced opportunities for sustained employment and to
break prolonged dependency on welfare;
(b) The proposal to enact the European Convention on Human
Rights into domestic legislation, which constitutes a
considerable departure from the traditional approach not
to incorporate international human rights treaties in
United Kingdom domestic law.
The Committee also takes note of the following initiatives:
(a) The proposal to introduce a national minimum wage,
which the Committee hopes will give due regard to the
value of work and an employee's ability to enjoy the right
to an adequate standard of living;
(b) The commitment of the Government to ratify the Treaty
of Amsterdam, and the resulting application of the European
Social Charter in the State party;
(c) The proposal for a "new deal" to give positive support
to employment through Training and Enterprise Councils,
and job subsidies to the private sector to provide additional
employment opportunities, with increased targeting of
ethnic minorities who suffer from above average rates
(d) The establishment of the Disability Rights Commission
to address issues of the rights of the disabled; and
(e) The new policy for a programme of lifelong learning
which should, in particular, target persons in the State
party who are functionally illiterate.
The Committee notes that significant progress has been
made to meet the educational needs of the travellers communities
The Committee welcomes the adoption of the Hong Kong Order
1997 which entitles Hong Kong citizens who are not allowed
to acquire Chinese nationality to receive United Kingdom
C. Factors and difficulties affecting the implementation of
The State party reported no specific factors or difficulties
affecting the implementation of the Covenant. The Committee
noted, however, that because of the recent change of government,
many questions were met with responses that indicated
that new initiatives were under consideration, that an
advisory group had been appointed to study various problems
or that a "White Paper" was being prepared on a given
subject. These answers, while understandable to a certain
degree, nevertheless undermined to a significant extent
the Committee's ability to evaluate the degree of compliance
with certain provisions of the Covenant. Moreover, it
became clear from the examination that economic and social
difficulties continue to be faced by some of the most
vulnerable segments of society, and that the Government's
ability to alleviate these difficulties is impaired by
its self-imposed budgetary constraints.
D. Principal subjects of concern
The Committee notes that despite the developed state of
the United Kingdom economy and the progress that has been
made to lower unemployment generally, there exist unacceptable
levels of poverty among certain segments of the population
in the State party, with particular respect to Northern
Ireland. The economic benefits of recent gains in prosperity
are unevenly distributed, with a significant widening
of the gap between rich and poor as a result. In this
respect, the Committee finds it disturbing that approximately
1 million persons do not apply for benefits to which they
are entitled, and that the Government limits access to
free legal aid with respect to a number of economic and
The Committee also finds disturbing the position of the
State party that provisions of the Covenant, with certain
minor exceptions, constitute principles and programmatic
objectives rather than legal obligations, and that consequently
the provisions of the Covenant cannot be given legislative
The Committee considers that failure to incorporate the
right to strike into domestic law constitutes a breach
of article 8 of the Covenant. The Committee considers
that the common law approach recognizing only the freedom
to strike, and the concept that strike action constitutes
a fundamental breach of contract justifying dismissal,
is not consistent with protection of the right to strike.
The Committee does not find satisfactory the proposal
to enable employees who go on strike to have a remedy
before a tribunal for unfair dismissal. Employees participating
in a lawful strike should not ipso facto be regarded
as having committed a breach of an employment contract.
The Committee is also of the view that the legally accepted
practice of allowing employers to differentiate between
union and non-union members by giving pay raises to employees
who do not join a union is incompatible with article 8
of the Covenant.
The Committee takes the view that despite the elaborate
machinery and legislation for protection against discrimination,
there continues to exist to a significant degree de facto
discrimination against women, Blacks and other ethnic
minorities. The Committee notes that women continue to
occupy a significantly lower percentage of managerial
positions, particularly in the private sector, and a disproportionate
percentage of lesser paid jobs and part-time work. It
also notes the persistence of a substantially higher rate
of unemployment among Blacks and other ethnic minorities
and their disproportionate numbers in lesser paid jobs.
The Committee is alarmed that the rate of unemployment
among Catholics in Northern Ireland is approximately twice
that of Protestants and is substantially above the national
rate of unemployment.
The Committee is concerned about the condition of many
children in the care of the Government, directly or indirectly,
in spite of extensive legislative provisions on this subject.
The report of Sir William Utting, "People Like Us", indicates
a significant reduction in the number of children's homes
with increased resort to placement in foster homes. The
result of this change is reported to be an increasing
incidence of child abuse in foster homes.
The Committee notes with concern the serious incidence
of domestic violence against women which the State party
has estimated at 680,000 cases in 1995, according to a
national crime survey.
The Committee expresses its concern that waiting times
for surgery can be 18 months or longer. In practice, this
situation has worsened over the past six months and is
of such a character as to call for immediate action. The
continuation of this situation calls into question whether
the State party has made its best efforts to satisfy the
provisions of article 12 of the Covenant.
The Committee is alarmed by the fact that corporal punishment
continues to be practised in schools which are privately
financed, and at the statement by the delegation that
the Government does not intend to eliminate this practice.
The Committee expresses its concern that homelessness
is still a problem that has not been adequately addressed
in the United Kingdom, and that vulnerable groups such
as travellers and ethnic minorities do not receive sufficient
protection against evictions.
The Committee expresses its concern that the educational
structure in Northern Ireland is heavily segregated with
most Protestants attending Protestant schools and most
Catholics attending Catholic schools and only approximately
2 per cent of the school population attending integrated
schools. The Committee is of the view that current government
policy, which appears to consist of a willingness to consider
the conversion of existing Protestant or Catholic schools
into integrated schools if it is the wish of the majority
in a given school, is ineffective and likely to preserve
the status quo. This situation is particularly deplorable
given that it has been reported that approximately 30
per cent of parents in Northern Ireland would prefer to
send their children to integrated schools.
The Committee expresses its concern at the plight of the
approximately 13,000 children permanently excluded from
school and that a disproportionate number of these students
are of African-Caribbean origin.
The Committee notes that the Irish language in Northern
Ireland does not appear to receive the same degree of
financial support and status as Gaelic in Scotland and
Welsh in Wales, and expresses its view that such differentiation
E. Suggestions and recommendations
The Committee suggests that the State party take appropriate
steps to introduce into legislation the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, so that
the rights covered by the Covenant may be fully implemented.
It is encouraged that the State party has taken such action
with respect to the European Convention on Human Rights
and is of the view that it would be appropriate to give
similar due regard to the obligations of the Covenant.
The Committee is of the view that social assistance should
be more carefully targeted to alleviate poverty among
the segments of the population in the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Northern Ireland who are suffering from
long-term unemployment, those whose overall revenue is
low (particularly in relationship to family size), and
those who are unable to work. Particular attention should
be directed at groups which are statistically disproportionately
represented at or near the bottom of the income scale
and who appear to have difficulty in moving up from the
lowest income group. From the examination, it would appear
that such groups would include at least the following:
ethnic minorities, women, lone parents, children in vulnerable
situations, the elderly, people with disabilities, and
Catholics in Northern Ireland. The Committee urges the
State party to make further efforts to extend benefits
to the approximately 1 million persons who qualify and
do not apply to receive them. It is of the view that a
less restrictive policy on free legal aid for social and
economic rights would facilitate access to these and other
social and economic benefits.
The Committee recommends that the right to strike be established
in legislation and that strike action no longer entail
the loss of employment, and expresses the view that the
current notion of freedom to strike, which simply recognizes
the illegality of being submitted to an involuntary servitude,
is insufficient to satisfy the requirements of article
8 of the Covenant. The Committee further recommends that
the right of employers to grant financial incentives to
employees who do not join unions be abolished.
The Committee recommends that the State party take more
effective steps to combat de facto discrimination, particularly
against Blacks and other ethnic minorities, women, and
Catholics in Northern Ireland.
The Committee recommends that the State party reconsider
its policy and procedures for placing large numbers of
children in foster homes in light of the reported increase
of abuse of children as a result of this policy, and examine
the feasibility of greater use of effectively supervised
children's homes if this would be in the best interest
of the child.
The Committee requests the State party to update in its
next report information on measures taken to combat the
phenomenon of violence against women and update its analysis
of which measures appear to yield the best results in
dealing with this problem.
The Committee finds that the present waiting time for
surgery is unacceptable and it therefore recommends that
the State party take immediate steps to reduce it.
The Committee recommends that the State party take appropriate
measures to eliminate corporal punishment in those schools
in which this practice is still permitted, i.e. privately
The Committee recommends that appropriate measures be
considered in Northern Ireland to facilitate the establishment
of additional integrated schools in areas where a significant
number of parents have indicated their desire to have
their children enrolled in such schools.
The Committee recommends that there be closer monitoring
of the incidence of homelessness and forced evictions,
and that statistics on these issues be provided in the
State party's next periodic report, together with information
regarding the steps taken to provide protection in accordance
with the Committee's General Comment No. 7 on forced evictions.
The Committee recommends that uniform defined criteria
be formulated for school exclusions, and that the State
party report on what government programmes, if any, exist
to facilitate the insertion of excluded young people into
alternative training or apprenticeship programmes.
The Committee recommends that the same degree of support
and status be given to the Irish language in Northern
Ireland as to Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales.
The Committee recommends that consideration be given to
the requirement that a human rights assessment or impact
statement be made an integral part of every proposed piece
of legislation or policy initiative on a basis analogous
to environmental impact assessments or statements.
Finally, the Committee recommends that the concerns expressed
in the present concluding observations, as well as the
issues raised during the discussion of the third periodic
report which remained unanswered, be addressed in the
State party's fourth periodic report, and it urges the
State party to disseminate widely the present concluding
observations adopted by the Committee following its consideration
of the State party's third periodic report.