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Human Rights, Equality and Well-being

February 18th 2019

As the discussion of incorporation of human rights in Wales continues, is incorporation necessary given existing frameworks on equality and well-being? Today, Dr Simon Hoffman, Associate Professor at Swansea University, answers this question.

Last week, Associate Professor at Swansea University, Simon Hoffman, explained how incorporation supports accountability for, and enforcement of human rights. Today, in this article and accompanying briefing, Simon discusses the relationship between human rights, equality and well-being.

Equality

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination for individuals and groups who share ‘protected characteristics’, while the Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their functions. These are certainly objectives for public policy shared by human rights. However, while equality and human rights have lots in common, the equality framework tells us very little about the specific objectives of public policy, what should be the priorities for action, and what level of provision should be aimed for. This contrasts with human rights which identify priority areas, e.g. housing, health and social care, and education, and establish ‘minimum essential levels’ of social provision, while also requiring government to make continuous progress toward better fulfilment of social rights.

Well-being

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 (WBFGA) establishes severel well-being goals for public bodies in Wales. They envision, for example, a more prosperous Wales, a healthier Wales and a more equal Wales. As these well-being goals seek to encapsulate the Welsh Government’s ambition for a future Wales, they are necessarily aspirational. They do not establish specific targets for public policy but instead require public authorities to determine well-being objectives for local service delivery that will maximise their contribution to achieving the well-being goals. Human rights, which are more detailed in setting out the expectations from public authorities, can provide ‘anchorage’ for both the well-being goals and well-being objectives. Human rights can help those responsible for setting well-being objectives identify priorities for action. In Wales this is of most significance in areas covered by social rights such as housing, healthcare, social care, and education.

How incorporation can help

Although there are connections between equality and human rights, as well as with the WBFGA well-being goals, the concepts are not interchangeable. Human rights are more directive and more focussed on particular areas of public policy than are either equality objectives or well-being goals. This means that where human rights are incorporated they can provide clarity of purpose for those subject to equality and well-being duties. But importantly, this begins with the assumption that human rights are discrete from equality and well-being, and establish free-standing obligations on government. Without incorporation the risk is that approaching human rights through the lens of equality or well-being will result in selective and partial application, which will fail to meet the legitimate expectations of the people of Wales to have all their human rights promoted and protected.

Throughout February the Bevan Foundation has published three articles, each accompanied by a more in-depth briefing. Click here for the first briefing on incorporation of human rights, the second briefing on accountability and enforcement, and the third briefing on human rights, equality and well-being.

Dr Simon Hoffman is Associate Professor at Swansea University. Simon will be delivering a workshop on human rights on 14th May which you can book here

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