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Strengthening Human Rights Laws in Scotland

In 2020, the Scottish Human Rights Commission published a report into models of incorporating international human rights standards into law, authored by Dr Katie Boyle, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Stirling. The report came out at the same week as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, visited the UK and Scotland to explore the links between poverty and human rights.

For further information and to view the report, go to the Scottish Human Rights Commission website.

The Scottish National Action Plan on Human Rights:Version 2 is due in 2022. In the interim, the Scottish Government and 3rd sector organisations have increased the focus on human rights due to issues arising from the pandemic, welfare reform, austerity and the recession.

Human rights to health, non-discrimination, food, fuel, income, employment, shelter, safety, relationships and citizenship are at risk for many people. 

What are my human rights?

UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Visits Scotland

Kerry McKenzie of NHS Health Scotland, joined the UN’s Professor Philip Alston at a discussion on child poverty during his visit to Scotland. Here’s what she had to say:

“….it feels like I am not part of this world”

These are the words of John Adebola-Samuel, a 12 year old boy I met on Friday when we both took part in a round table discussion on child poverty with Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, as part of his UK visit. 

You might have seen John and his sister, Dami from Dumfries, on a BBC Scotland documentary, Breadline Kids, that was aired earlier this year. Unlike much of the ‘poverty porn’ that is on TV, this was a sensitive programme that highlighted the stark situation many families living in poverty are experiencing in Scotland. Because of their immigration status, John and Dami’s family have ‘no recourse to public funds’ which means they are not eligible for state support, including free school meals. He talked about thinking about food constantly, the overwhelming and persistent feeling of hunger and of feeling excluded from everyday life, both at home and school.

The session was organised by Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young Peoples Commissioner for Scotland, and his colleagues and hosted by  Avenue End Primary School in Ruchazie. This was the first of Philip’s visits that had children’s voices right at the heart of the visit. Rob Booth, a journalist from The Guardian, was present and he reported on the visit

I had the chance to flag the impacts from a public health perspective, including Martin Taulbut’s report Working and Hurting, that life expectancy is stalling and talk about some practical action that is supporting children and families in Scotland. And of course, that poverty and austerity are undermining our efforts to improve health, reduce health inequalities and uphold the right to the highest possible standard of health in Scotland.

For me, I felt privileged to be part of the discussion and having the opportunity to meet John, Dami and some other young people who were listened to by Philip and the other so called experts on child poverty. But, in all honesty, I was left affronted: here we are in a wealthy country being investigated by an international expert (whose previous investigations include China and Saudi Arabia) on our levels of extreme poverty and its implications for human rights.

So I’ll end with Philip’s words for consideration: ‘Poverty is a political choice….it is also a human rights issue.’

Kerry McKenzie
Organisational Lead – Child Poverty, NHS Health Scotland 

Statement on visit to the United Kingdom by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, 16th November 2018

Guardian report on Philip Alston’s press statement, 16th November 2018

Useful Resources

Scottish Human Rights Commission health and social care case studies 

Public Health Scotland Health inequalities: Human rights and the right to health 

The Alliance: Being Human – a human rights based approach to health and social care 


Human Rights and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde

Human Rights & Healthcare

Linked Pages

Addressing Income Inequality, Poverty & Social Issues

Extreme Poverty & Destitution