June 2, 2020
Human rights into action
When Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the United Nations Drafting Committee for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 was trying to explain the essence of what human rights are about she intoned, “Where after all, do human rights begin? In the small places, close to home…” All very well to say but how does one convert the knowledge that one has a human right into something that actually changes one’s life for the better. Not always easy but as a group of tenants in Leith will testify, it can be done.
The Project In Detail
This chapter describes the Housing Rights in Practice project in detail. It explains how the project came about and the work that took place over its four year lifetime.
How did the project come about?
In 2013, SNAP (Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights) was launched as a framework for action to address gaps in the reality of human rights in people’s everyday lives. One of the actions identified through SNAP was to pilot an approach to tackling poverty and social exclusion by empowering people to claim their rights, drawing on the experiences of PPR .
The PPR approach involves ensuring that ‘rights holders’ – people whose rights are directly affected by an issue or problem – are supported to take part in measuring and monitoring the way their rights are upheld. They can then use this information to hold to account and engage constructively with ‘duty bearers’ – organisations with human rights obligations.
This approach was first adopted by PPR with residents living in the Seven Towers in North Belfast. It has been commended by Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Raquel Rolnik, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.
Through working together on SNAP, the Commission and PPR had also built links with the Edinburgh Tenants Federation (ETF). ETF expressed an interest in supporting a pilot project on the right to housing. They then supported the Commission to approach different registered tenants organisations (RTOs) from across the city at a meeting in June 2015. Officers from the City of Edinburgh Council also attended this meeting.
One group based in Leith came forward, recognising similarities between their own housing conditions and those experienced by people in the Seven Towers in Belfast. The majority of residents in the area were social housing tenants, whose landlord was the City of Edinburgh Council. The housing is made up of two high rise blocks of 76 flats (Citadel and Persevere Court), and one low rise block of 30 flats (West Cromwell Street). The area is in the most deprived 20% in Scotland according to the most recent statistics from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.
The Council had made a number of previous commitments to carry out work on the housing blocks in 2010, 2011, 2014 and early 2015. However, investment had not been forthcoming by the time the Commission began working in the area in June 2015.