Annual members’ consultation

We’ve just launched our annual members’ consultation, which will help determine what we campaign on in 2018. If you’re not an LCHR member yet, you can join now to participate in the survey and help shape our work.

If you’re a member you should have received the survey by email. If you’re not signed up to receive emails, please contact andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk to receive the survey directly.

 

Brexit & human rights project

Today, as the government begins Brexit negotiations with the European Union, LCHR embarks on a new project, ‘Brexit & human rights’, a year-long policy and advocacy project which will run from June 2017 to June 2018. Our aim is to influence Brexit and post-Brexit policy in Labour and progressive circles, in order to make it compatible with human rights. You can see more about the project on our dedicated website, here.

With the assistance of a group of expert advisors, and with input from all the different constituent parts of the Labour movement, LCHR will examine the challenges and opportunities that Brexit poses for human rights in the UK. We will invite submissions from MPs, trade unions, civil society, Labour CLPs and members, and like-minded political parties, and holding high-level workshops focusing on the key issues. We will produce policy analysis and ideas to help inform the Labour Party and other progressive parties on how to ensure human rights are protected during and after Brexit.

The five key issues we are focusing on are:

  • Citizens’ rights, such as the residency rights of EU nationals living in the UK.
  • The immigration system after Brexit.
  • Human rights in post-Brexit trade deals.
  • Equality and employment rights.
  • Hate crimes and xenophobia.

Those on LCHR’s mailing list will get automatic monthly updates on the project within our regular newsletter, but if you’d like to sign up for separate updates you can do so here.

The husbands and wives depending on a Labour election victory

On the eve of this election, there are thousands of married couples whose futures hang in the balance. The result will likely determine whether or not they can live with their husband or their wife, or whether they will continue to be separated under the UK’s unfair visa regime.

In 2012, the Home Office – under Theresa May’s leadership – implemented new minimum income requirements for non-EEA applicants for spousal visas. They are so high that the UK now scores at the bottom of the league tables for ease of family reunion. To bring a spouse (or indeed an unmarried partner) to the UK, not including application costs, requires £18,600 annual gross income, which increases by the thousands if there are children too.

But, if the Conservatives win, things are set to get even worse. The Tories have pledged to hike the minimum income requirement for spousal visas even higher. Their pledge comes as settlement visa fees have also recently been increased from £1,195 to £1,464, and charges increased for even the most basic immigration services. It’s now going to cost £5.48 to send a single email to the UK Visas and Immigration service to get information for an application.

Some families had hope earlier this year when the Supreme Court was set to make a ruling on the legality of the minimum income requirement. But in February the Court upheld the income requirement, despite the hardship it causes to already vulnerable families, though it did urge more relaxed policies regarding alternative sources of funding as well as expanding the purview of immigration officers, empowering them to make decisions in full compliance with the Human Rights Act of 1998.

Now that the Court has validated the draconian immigration policies of the Conservatives, as we edge closer and closer to the UK’s departure from the EU, it is up to progressives to alleviate the burdens unfairly shouldered by Britain’s immigrant population. In its manifesto, Labour has bravely and rightly pledged to scrap the minimum income requirement altogether.

It’s not hard to see why. A minimum wage earner in the UK makes barely £13,000 annually, so for the threshold to be set so high and only taking into account the sponsor’s income is a grossly unjust policy. Its justification under May’s leadership is shrouded in what appears at first to be neutral economic arguments. But looking at the broader trajectory of the Conservatives’ policy undertakings, it is clear that these severe requirements are simply intended to squeeze immigration numbers as much as possible.

One of the appellants to the Supreme Court case, called MM, makes just over £15,000 in the UK, and his wife in Lebanon speaks fluent English, has a BSc in nutrition, and works as a pharmacist. Her job prospects in the UK are optimistic, and she would have little trouble integrating. However, they have not made an application for her settlement because of the high application fees and the likelihood of their rejection by the Home Office.

Theresa May and the Conservatives, as we approach the election, seem eager to crack down on all foreigners, including EU citizens, living in the UK who hope to bring their partners and children here to live. The Tories’ targeting of families is especially unfair as effective political mobilization is difficult when families are fragmented, earning low-wages, working multiple jobs, or caring for children.

Those committed to the protection of families must be the vanguard of the opposition to the Conservatives’ unjust immigration policies. It’s ironic that it should be the Labour Party emerging in this election as the champion of marriage and family values – principles that the Tories seem to have abandoned. To all those couples anxiously awaiting the election result, we send our solidarity. Progressives, in the wake of a tumultuous global election season, find themselves with many fronts to fight. But tackling these unfair rules is a cause we shall continue to fight for, whatever the election outcome.

Elise Francis is a Campaign Volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Labour’s manifesto 2017 – a human rights scorecard

At the beginning of the month, LCHR put forward our top 15 human rights priorities for the 2017 election manifesto, spanning Brexit and foreign affairs, immigration and asylum, human rights in counter-terrorism, legal protections, workers’ rights, and civil society & trade unions. Now, as the dust begins to settle from the launch of Labour’s keenly awaited official election manifesto, it’s time to comb over the pledges, promises and policies proposed and see how it measures up.

Brexit

In an election decidedly overcast by the heavy clouds of approaching Brexit negotiations, the manifesto understandably wastes no time in promising to alleviate the insecurities felt by individuals whose homes, livelihoods and human rights are left most vulnerable. Specifically addressed is the right of EU nationals to remain in the UK, a promise heavily seasoned with thinly veiled criticism of the prime minister’s attempts to flaunt the human rights of EU nationals over the heads of Brussels officials.

Also emphasised is a commitment to safeguard hard fought employment and equality rights and protections during and after Brexit, and a promise that trade unions, businesses and stakeholders will be closely involved in processes to ensure that there is no rolling back or falling behind the times in terms of the advancements on workers’ rights made in recent years.

Unnamed however is a commitment to avoiding the use of Henry VIII powers, which would allow for largely unscrutinised changes to EU law using delegated or secondary legislation. That said, Labour has made numerous commitments not to use these powers in the past.

Score: 4/5

Foreign policy

Giving human rights parity with strategic and commercial interests in foreign policy is a priority that LCHR has long advanced. Under a Conservative government, relations have been deepened with many human rights abusers notably Bahrain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Turkey.

Labour’s manifesto focuses on advancing peaceful solutions and reinvigorating international institutions. Importantly, it pledges to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia until a UN-led investigation has reported on alleged violations of international law.

Score: 5/5

Immigration and asylum

Playing the numbers game with rates of immigration and asylum is wholly unacceptable. Reducing a myriad of individuals, each with complex lives, motivations and traumas, into sound bite statistics which are unlikely to be met is thankfully, a strategy that Labour has refrained from pursuing. Though the specifics of an immigration system under Labour is not fully disclosed within the manifesto, there is a clear acknowledgement that “bogus immigration targets” will not be tolerated. Instead, the party promises the creation of “fair rules and reasonable management of migration”. Though for many, in the wake of assurances from both major parties that freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union, this lack of clarity surrounding the specific form a new migration system could take, may cause some concern.

Most encouraging of all is the farewell Labour is keen to say to the controversial spousal income threshold of £18,600, a policy instrumentally separating families by stopping thousands of citizens from bringing their foreign partners to the UK.

Finally, the manifesto commits to ending the immoral and draconian practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Score: 4/5

Refugee protection

In addressing calls for a “humane refugee and asylum system”, the manifesto alludes to the sort of action required to improve the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in this country. The pledge to “take our fair share of refugees” evokes the comforting image of a good first start. However, with scant reference to the egregious conditions forced upon refugees entering the UK, a sharp eye will need to remain on the evolution of such promises to ensure that aid and compassion for refugees and asylum seeks is not simply ‘left at the door’.

Score: 3/5

Human rights in counter-terrorism

Staunchly advocated by LCHR and therefore warmly welcomed within the manifesto, is a review of the Prevent program, a strategy aimed at thwarting extremism but which has in reality succeeded only in further alienating and excluding minorities from our society.

However, in order to properly strengthen a commitment to end discriminatory security and surveillance measures, more thought must be directed at the extent to which “providing our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe”, as promised in the manifesto, risks surveillance without suspicion which often unfairly penalises ethnic and religious minorities.

Score: 3/5

Legal protections

Nestled in the fray of concerns surrounding the UK’s exit from the European Union was Tory support for abandoning the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, a move that would reverse a long history of positive evolution in legal protections of human rights. Labour’s manifesto is unhindered in its ardent support of both protective frameworks, a position now suddenly mirrored in the recently published Conservative manifesto, which officially ruled out repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act “while the process of Brexit is under way”.

Furthermore, in many ways, the official Labour manifesto has gone further than its leaked predecessor. In the draft, it was merely stated that the party would “consider recommendations” to reinstate legal aid. However, a change in the language of the final draft states that the party “will consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the Access to Justice Commission led by Lord Bach”, as well as fully reviewing the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.

Score: 5/5

Workers’ rights, civil society and trade unions

There is a strong commitment to workers’ rights present in a myriad of the policies proposed, with promises to “reverse the unfair employment tribunal fees which literally price people out of justice”, also accompanied by a pledge to end the use of zero hours contracts. This is an important step in the direction of properly regulating the growing ‘gig economy’.

Finally, through promises to repeal both the Lobbying Act and Trade Union Act, we can see a strong desire to unpick the problems caused by misguided legislation advanced by the previous government, and sew back together a far more liberated and united civil society.

Score: 5/5

Total: 29/35

Overall, we at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights are very pleased with the manifesto. While the section on security and counter-terrorism didn’t include a commitment to address Britain’s illiberal mass surveillance regime, and while not all will be satisfied with the commitments on immigration and asylum, there’s plenty here for human rights activists to feel good about. We give the manifesto an A-, a big improvement on the C+ we gave to its predecessor in 2015.

Amy Fallon is a volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Our manifesto priorities

Human rights are core Labour values. They are rooted in the guiding traditions of our movement – universality, equality, and solidarity. Universality because everyone, whatever their background or their geographical location, is entitled to them by virtue of their humanity. Equality because their universal nature means they can be used as powerful instruments to challenge inequalities and discrimination against oppressed, vulnerable, or disadvantaged people. And solidarity because they are an expression of our concern for others, including those beyond our borders. In short, they help bring our vision of social justice to life.

Below we have drawn up a list of our top 15 human rights priorities for the 2017 election manifesto, spanning Brexit and foreign affairs, immigration and asylum, human rights in counter-terrorism, legal protections, workers’ rights, and civil society & trade unions.

Brexit and foreign affairs

1. Protect employment and equality rights during and after Brexit

Many of the employment and equality rights we benefit from are derived from EU law. They must be protected both during and after the Brexit process. That means opposing the use of Henry VIII powers and committing to protect all rights derived from the EU, including those established through judgements in EU courts.

2. Put human rights at the heart of trade deals after Brexit

The UK will have to negotiate new trade deals across the world following Brexit. In order to ensure we stay true to our own values, and to encourage reform around the world, all trade deals should respect democratic principles and freedoms, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as defined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

3. Right to remain for EU nationals

Any EU national currently living in the UK should automatically and unilaterally be given permanent residency rights. This will end the anxiety currently being felt by millions of EU nationals living across the UK, many of whom have been here for years or even decades.

4. Give human rights parity with strategic and commercial interests in foreign policy

Strategic and commercial interests will always be part of foreign policy, but must not automatically trump human rights concerns whenever they come into conflict. The UK’s continuing arms transfers to Saudi Arabia are just one example of where human rights are not being given the consideration they deserve.

Immigration and asylum

5. A fair immigration system based on value, not numbers

The net migration target turns people into statistics and is blind to justice or economic potential. Immigration decisions should be based on the value of a migrant and their claim to be here, not on a general policy to reduce numbers. The symptoms of this policy should also be tackled, particularly excessively high visa fees and the rigid, unresponsive immigration service that frequently denies people entry on the basis of counter-intuitive technicalities.

6. End the squeeze on family migration

The spousal income requirement for family visas is breaking up families and ruining lives. The current £18,600 threshold is beyond reach for a large portion of the population. The income requirement should be considerably reduced, and the applicant’s earning potential should be taken into consideration as well as the sponsor’s income. Other methods of proving income should also be explored, such as family guarantees.

7. A humane refugee and asylum system

Britain should take in our fair share of refugees to reflect our longstanding tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and conflict. We must also improve the conditions of asylum seekers and refugees when they are here by ending the practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, giving them the right to work, and increasing their subsistence allowances. Refugees should also be given more time to find a home and a job before their allowances are cut off.

Human rights in counter-terrorism

8. End mass surveillance

The Court of Justice of the European Union recently ruled that blanket surveillance of the UK population is incompatible with fundamental standards of privacy. The UK’s surveillance regime should be amended so that there is no surveillance without suspicion.

9. Review the Prevent strategy

The UK’s ‘Prevent’ strategy to tackle extremism is divisive and controversial. Many people feel alienated by it after a catalogue of cases where it has been improperly applied. It has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech, preventing an open debate where extremist ideas can be challenged, and has also interfered with privacy. Labour should commit to a full review of Prevent, including examining alternative strategies for tackling terrorism.

Legal protections

10. Protect the Human Rights Act and commit to staying in the ECHR

The Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights are the guarantors of human rights in this country. Together they have helped rape victims get justice, protected children and the elderly against abuse, and helped achieve equality for LGBT people. The Human Rights Act must be kept, as must our membership of the ECHR.

11. A fair legal aid system that protects the most vulnerable

The cuts to legal aid have had a damaging impact on people’s ability to achieve justice, leaving vulnerable people unable to challenge abuses against them. Labour should ensure the system is fair and protects the most vulnerable.

Workers’ rights

12. Scrap employment tribunal fees

Employment tribunal fees are unaffordable for many workers, preventing them from challenging unfair decisions or abusive practices. They allow unethical companies to get away with flouting rules protecting workers’ rights. They should be scrapped immediately.

13. Regulate the ‘gig’ economy

The ‘gig’ economy, where employees are forced to work on zero hour contracts and many are not classified as employees at all, must be properly regulated. Zero hour contracts should be scrapped, and companies should be prevented from improperly classifying employees as self-employed.

Civil society and trade unions

14. Scrap the Lobbying Act

The Lobbying Act is one of the most illiberal pieces of legislation passed in recent memory. It heavily restricts legitimate campaigning efforts by charities and other non-profit groups, while doing virtually nothing to tackle corporate lobbying. The Act should be scrapped.

15. Scrap the Trade Union Act

The ability to strike is a crucial source of leverage for workers who are dealing with unfair working conditions or pay, and is also a basic human right under freedom of association. The Trade Union Act interferes with legitimate strike action and makes it extremely difficult for workers to exercise their collective bargaining rights. It should be repealed.

Rebutting arguments for a British Bill of Rights

We’re pleased to present our latest briefing, ‘Rebutting arguments for a British Bill of Rights‘, which will go out to all LCHR supporters, Labour MPs, and peers.

In the absence of concrete proposals from the government on its planned British Bill of Rights, we’ve trawled through the various arguments and ideas that have been deployed in its favour over the last few years to create a definitive rebuttal guide.