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Upholding human rights will tackle poverty says commissioner

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Conference hears how poverty has become an entrenched human rights issue

Defending human rights would enable Scottish civil society tackle poverty and lead to the country being a world leader in equality.

However, draconian welfare cuts are eroding these universal rights, creating huge challenges in all areas of Scots society.

A conference in Glasgow heard how future prosperity was hinged on how Scotland takes forward this agenda.

The National Innovation Forum event marked International Human Rights Day and the first anniversary of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP).

Professor Alan Miller, Scotland's human rights commissioner, told delegates Glasgow had a high profile year but one which was also characterised by "systemic inequality."

Quoting Nelson Mandela, Miller said: "Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity it is an act of justice.

“It can be eradicated by human beings.”

Around one hundred participants took part in the event, which also included input from international projects and academics with experience of using human rights to tackle poverty.

Miller said poverty represented a failure in international human rights law, which includes rights like the right to education, to health and to adequate housing.

The austerity response to the economic recession has done much to deepen what was already an entrenched problem of poverty in Scotland - Alan Miller

“The austerity response to the economic recession has done much to deepen what was already an entrenched problem of poverty in Scotland,” he said.

“Changes to the welfare system, cuts in public spending and rising costs of living have all combined to push more people into poverty.”

Rosaleen Kilbane, who addressed delegates on the problems facing Scotland’s gypsy/traveller community, said her experience was that institutional discrimination still existed at the highest levels of Scottish society.

“We have seen first-hand how human rights of individuals and communities are systematically undermined,” she said.

“This is happening in a progressive, wealthy country that celebrates equality as a benchmark of its humanity.

“Yet the gypsy traveller community – as well as other minorities – routinely have to deal with human rights infringements on a daily basis.

“This prevents people from work, from housing, from education. It puts them into poverty and keeps them there.”

The conference also heard how Snap’s first year had been characterised by building partnerships and seeking to change processes.

Five human rights action groups have been convened bringing together public sector, civil society and membership organisations.

As it moved into year two, the action plan would build on success – such as embedding human rights in the integration of health and social care – and capitalise on opportunities to put human rights at the heart of newly-energised public debates about Scotland’s future.

“As we mark progress made in the first year of SNAP, we must also keep up the pressure and momentum for more action to help us achieve an equal Scotland where everyone lives with human dignity,” added Miller.



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