Right now your human rights in the UK are protected by the Human Rights Act, passed in 1998.
The act reinforces your right to life, meaning the state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody. It also protects against torture, slavery, unlawful detention and discrimination. It gives you a right to privacy, freedom of speech and a family life, plus a bunch of other stuff.
It means no worries, for the rest of your days.
But it’s no problem free philosophy, because the Conservative government wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.
Scenes of Reason made the boring not boring for you. We also spotted something the poster campaigns missed.
The Human Rights Act was passed to bring Britain into line with the European Convention on Human Rights. Let’s be clear – this has nothing to do with the European Union. This is an agreement of the basic rights that all European citizens should have. It was created, with Britain leading the way, after WWII to make sure atrocities such as the Holocaust did not happen again. It’s the job of the European Court of Human Rights to make sure that participating countries like Britain toe the line. This is the bit that the government doesn’t like – we’ll get to that in a minute.
If your human rights have been violated, the Human Rights Act means your case can be heard in the UK courts, rather than having to go straight to the European Court of Human Rights.
Under the Human Rights Act, it is illegal for any UK public authority – including police officers, local authorities, government departments, prisons and social care providers – to ignore your human rights. You can take your case to court if they do so. With one catch, these guys can ignore your human rights if Parliament has passed a law saying that they can.
UK courts can decide that UK legislation is not in line with the human rights contained in the European Convention, but Parliament does not legally have to do anything about it. It’s up to Parliament whether or not to amend that legislation. Similarly, when deciding how UK law fits with the European Convention, the UK courts are not required to follow what the European Court of Human Rights thinks. Instead UK courts just have to “take into account” any decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights.
There is wiggle room in this act.
According to the Conservative party, the wiggle room currently allowed by the Human Rights Act is not enough.
Basically the current UK government doesn’t like being told what to do, or being stopped from doing what it wants to do. The argument is that the European Court of Human Rights has too much power, and tends to interpret human rights law much more loosely than the UK likes.
The previous government was especially annoyed by how long it took to deport Abu Qatada to face terror charges in Jordan, because the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he risked torture and inhumane treatment.
Here are four reasons the Conservatives have put forward for scrapping the act, translated into plain English.
The European Court of Human Rights has developed ‘mission creep’: The Strasbourg Court has gone human rights loco, interpreting the European Convention beyond what the original authors of the Convention ever had in mind. For example, a 2007 ruling required the UK to allow many more prisoners the right to go through artificial insemination with their partners, in order to uphold their rights to a family life under Article 8. According to the Conservative party, “this is not what the originators of the Convention had in mind when they framed that article.”
The Human Rights Act undermines the UK courts. In a nutshell, the government doesn’t like that UK courts have to “take into account” the reasoning of the European Court of Human Rights, as it means that “problematic Strasbourg jurisprudence is often being applied in UK law.”
In practice, the Human Rights Act undermines the authority of Parliament. The Conservative argument is that UK courts have sometimes preferred to follow the lead of the European Court of Human Rights when deciding whether UK law complies with human rights or not. This has sometimes meant that the court’s decision went against what Parliament intended when they were writing the law in the first place, and Parliament is supposed to be sovereign.
The Human Rights Act goes beyond the UK’s obligations under the Convention. Decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights are supposed to be binding, meaning that the court can tell the UK to change its laws if they don’t properly fit with the European Convention. There was nothing in the original European Convention that allowed for this. The UK’s authority to control its own law should not be undermined by a European court, it is argued.
This last point is up for debate though. The European Court of Human Rights ruled a decade ago that Britain should allow its prisoners to vote, in order to fit with Article 3 allowing free and fair elections. The UK has seriously contested this ruling and so far no changes have been made to the law. So it’s not true to say that the European Court of Human Rights has the all-out power to force the UK to change its law, because so far it hasn’t been successful in changing Britain’s law on prisoners’ voting rights.
The Conservative party manifesto promised to scrap the Human Rights Act and bring in a British Bill of Rights.
Nobody knows yet what exactly this will involve. We’re expecting a draft this Autumn.
Here’s what the manifesto promised to do:
“The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society. But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.”
If you live in London, Manchester or drive around major motorways, you’ve maybe seen the “I Needed the Human Rights Act” poster campaign.
If you’re like us, you don’t have time to read everything on the posters because the escalators go too fast. So here’s the campaign in full.
The gist is that anyone can need human rights law, and the Human Rights Act was intended to make that more secure for people.
But the poster campaign has missed those who will be most affected. Most affected by the bill will likely be terror suspects and foreign criminals. Like it says in the Conservative manifesto, the plan is to make it harder for these people to appeal to the right not to be tortured or inhumanely treated, or to the right to a family life as grounds not to be deported from the UK.
Put plainly, the British Bill of Rights is likely to make it a lot easier to deport people to places the European Court has judged dangerous or likely to treat their criminals inhumanely.
Even though terror suspects, foreign national prisoners and migrants will see the biggest changes once the Human Rights Act is scrapped, they are not very often included in otherwise very good campaigns like the posters or like this one.
This is understandable: they are what we call the Unpopular Humans. Very few people in society are willing to stand up for the rights of terror suspects or foreign criminals. They don’t make very good poster boys. Some would argue they don’t deserve this kind of fair treatment, or that they are abusing human rights to get around the system.
But for some, it’s how we treat terror suspects or foreign criminals which is a marker of our commitment to humanity. Are these people less deserving of their human rights?
For others, the opportunities these people have had to appeal to their human rights has been an obstruction to Britain’s national security and Britain’s authority to make its own decisions.
Here’s a letter you can sign if you are concerned about this. If you reckon the government is doing the right thing, sit back and relax.
Subscribe below to Scenes of Reason as we’ll be decoding as and when updates come in.
Sign up to our weekly news roundup, The Week: Decoded.
Affordable housing is one of our biggest concerns. Prime Minister David Cameron promises to build 200,000 new starter homes for new buyers… wait, aren’t we “generation rent”?
At the moment there is a lack of affordable housing across the UK. This lack of homes is pushing the price of houses up, up and up – meaning fewer people are able to buy their own home. There are a number of reasons why this is happening. The government builds way fewer houses than it used to in the 1960s and 1970s. The Conservative government in the 1980s led by Margaret Thatcher sold off council houses under the “right to buy” scheme. The scheme was a popular policy, but critics claim it created a shortage of housing. Another major reason is that planning permission for houses takes a long time to be granted. Not all permissions lead to houses being built.
Prime Minister David Cameron just promised to build 200,000 new homes which will be available for people to buy.
“Those old rules which said to developers: you can build on this site, but only if you build affordable homes for rent …we’re replacing them with new rules… you can build here, and those affordable homes can be available to buy.”
Whether this is achievable is uncertain… in 2007 the Labour government set a target of building 240,000 homes a year. Admirable idea… but they failed to meet this target. Even if the government hits this target it may not solve high rents. The Guardian reports that offering subsidies (benefits usually in the form of a cash payment or tax reduction) to builders creating more homes has actually made things worse.
Many call 16-25 year olds “generation rent” as rising house prices mean we are less likely to be able to afford to buy a house.
The housing crisis is also pushing up rents – even faster than the price of actually buying a house. The cost of renting a room in London has jumped more than 20% in the past five years. Landlords, rejoice.
The average price of renting in London is now £1,500 a month; outside the capital is £751. Don’t forget that when renting you’ll also usually need a month’s rent as a deposit. Affordable for some, but not for those searching for work, on lower paid jobs or zero-hours contracts.
It would seem new affordable houses are definitely needed. However, the i100 reports that housing charity Shelter is skeptical over whether David Cameron’s promised new homes are actually that affordable. They say on the minimum wage only 2% of homes would be affordable. Hmm.
One thing is for sure; rents are rising faster than our wages. Paying more for rent means you’re unable to save as much (if at all) for a deposit or mortgage, lowering your chances of getting your own place or saving for a pension. In many countries it’s the norm to rent all your life, but in the UK we seem to want to own our homes. The result? More and more graduates are moving back in with their parents to save. There’s been a 28% increase in 20-34 year olds living at home since 1997.
Searches for shared rooms have risen dramatically in the last few years as others cut costs by sharing a room. It takes two to tango.
The problem is that as people become more desperate for a place to live they end up forking out extortionate amounts for cramped and often substandard accommodation.
Take the single room in Clapham advertised at £800. Or the £730 per month “fully contained” flat … basically a bed in a kitchen. This “loft conversion” (see; cupboard) was posted at the reasonable price of £40 per week. The catch – there is no standing room. Your affordable halls of residence seem like a distant daydream, don’t they?
Warning; thinking about the housing crisis for too long may lead to nausea/anger/fear/a cold numb feeling spreading through your whole body.
However we’re practical folks here at Scenes of Reason so we’ve compiled a some ways to escape the housing crisis and jump on that property ladder.
The government runs a “Help to Buy” scheme which allows you to buy a house with a smaller deposit.
Under the scheme first time buyers are able to buy a property up to £600,000, paying only 5% upfront as a deposit.
Usually you’d need around 10% for a deposit. Happy days!
The government is also offering a loan to cover 20% of the price of a new property. For the first five years you won’t be charged fees on this loan.
The BBC also has a calculator which tells you where in the country is cheaper to rent or buy. However, perhaps just buying or building houses may not solve the housing crisis.
According to the Empty Homes Charity there are over 200,000 homes left empty for over six months, and over 600,000 houses empty in total. So perhaps to solve the housing crisis we should start trying to fill these houses, rather than just building new ones?
Will David Cameron deliver on his promise to build 200,000 new homes? Will these even be affordable? How can we end the housing crisis?
Take action: If you think more needs to be done, sign the Housing Federation’s Change.org petition “Solve Our Housing Crisis”
Voters decided today that it will be Conservative Zac Goldsmith facing Labour’s Sadiq Khan in the election for Mayor of London in 2016.
As of this morning, we knew only two things about Zac Goldsmith.
Put those two things together and you have a pretty awkward work situation on your hands. Moving on.
This wasn’t really good enough – seeing as our job is to break it all down simply so no one else has to. We’ve spent the day enlightening ourselves on why we have a mayor in the first place, what they’ve done for us in the past and what these two fresh mayoral candidates are offering.
Why do we have mayors?
City mayors didn’t exist in the UK, at least not the kind we actually vote for, until the year 2000. We have had Lord Mayors for hundreds of years, and that’s a whole different heap of old-timey crazy.
Since the year 2000, local authorities have been able to ask their residents whether or not they would like to have an elected mayor.
This was part of a decision to devolve powers to local government.
Devolution is a fancy word meaning the transfer of powers and responsibilities from central government in London to local authorities all over the UK – like if your mum put you in charge of some rabbits, and you had to make sure they all had fairly nice hutches but you also had to make sure the rabbits didn’t build any more hutches without your permission, make sure they can all get around to their rabbit-jobs efficiently and don’t commit too many rabbit-crimes.
Basically, a mayor is the head of a local authority who take over government responsibilities like housing and planning, waste and environment management, transport, policing, and economic growth. Did the rabbit thing make that any easier to understand?
If town residents vote in favour of having an elected mayor – which is what happened in London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Lewisham, North Tyneside, Salford, Torbay and a bunch of other places – then the next step is to actually elect one.
In London, Labour’s Ken Livingstone was elected mayor for the first eight years, followed by Conservative and love-hateable maniac Boris Johnson for the next eight years.
Changes are a-coming, though. Come 2016 the London Mayor won’t be Ken or Boris but will either be Zak or Sadiq. It sounds like the lads from One Direction are taking over City Hall. There are other candidates from other parties, but TBH nobody expects them to get a look in.
Whoever is elected London Mayor in 2016 can expect a salary similar to a cabinet minister – currently just over £140,000.
What have mayors ever done for us?
The stuff brought in by the last two London mayors is actually stuff Londoners use every day.
Trying to cut down on London’s carbon emissions, Ken Livingstone introduced the congestion charge requiring road users in Central London on week days.
He also introduced the Oyster card and made it possible for same-sex couples to register their partnership. This last initiative paved the way towards UK-wide civil partnerships. Woop.
Boris Johnson banned alcohol on London transport – and there was a big party the night before this law came into effect.
He also completed Ken’s plan of introducing a public cycle hire scheme of 5,000 bikes across London – known as Boris bikes.
Bo-Jo also set up the Outer London Fund, offering a pot of money up to £50m to help create better local high streets.
Who will be our next mayor?
One of these two gents.
Sadiq Khan is Labour MP for Tooting, and won 59% of the vote which took place in tandem with the Labour leader selection. The ballot included full members of the Labour party, registered supporters and affiliated sections (trade unions and the like). Khan managed to win a decisive majority across all three of these sections.
Zac Goldsmith is Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, and won 70.6% of the vote in a ballot which any Londoner over 18 could vote in for £1.
What issues are they pushing forward?
They’re both ploughing right in with housing and green policies as top of their agenda.
Both are bothered about swollen house prices pushing regular Londoners out of their own city – with this creating a divided and unequal situation like Paris or New York where the rich live in the centre and the poor live at the fringes.
Zac says we need to build more houses and change the way we build them.
Sadiq says we need to make sure Londoners get ‘dibs’ on new houses and backs a ‘London Living Rent’ which would see a certain number of properties in any new build charging rent equal to a third of the average wage in the area.
They’re both serious environmentalists. Both completely oppose the expansion of Heathrow Airport and put improving green spaces and the air Londoners breathe at the top of their if-elected to-do lists.
One thing they disagree on is the building of the Garden Bridge Boris Johnson has planned, which Sadiq Khan reckons is too hefty a cost on the public wallet. Zak reckons it’s OK. Woah guys this is way too much drama.
It’s mega early days, but right now the two candidates don’t seem all that different. At least in the sense that they’re focusing on exactly the same problems.
To be fair, though, seeing as nearly 10,000 die each year in London because of air pollution and mental London house prices being twice the national average, neither candidate could really ignore these things.
The difference will probably be in how they tackle these issues. Again, though, early days.
Spot the difference
There are for sure lots of differences between these two guys. The BIGGEST difference is their backgrounds.
Sadiq Khan, was the son of a bus driver and seamstress, grew up on a south London council estate and slept in a bunk bed at his parents’ house while he trained to be a lawyer.
Zac Goldsmith is son of aristocracy, inherited £200 million from his father and was expelled from Eton for possessing cannabis.
So. Yeah. Different. Let’s see how this plays out.
Now you’re decoded on the London Mayor and the new candidates you can join the debate. If you don’t live in London, call up a mate who does and lecture them on devolution, cos YOLO. For those who live in London you can vote in the actual mayoral election as long as your are over 18 on the day of the election in May 2016 and can register to vote.
Registering to vote takes about 5 minutes – do it here.
More powers are being given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As they get greater control over their own affairs does this mean English MPs should have English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)?
Though the system means it takes an age to get anything done, there are plenty of opportunities for MPs to raise concerns if they don’t agree with the bill.
The Conservative government is trying to make a change called English Votes for English Laws. It’s a simple idea; only English MPs should have a say over matters which affect England only.
When a bill is announced, the Speaker will decide if the bill has sections which relate to England only, or England and Wales only. The first stages will go ahead as usual.
At Committee Stage, Bills are examined by small groups of MPs. The number of MPs who go on the Committee depends on how many MPs that party has in the country. So at the moment expect to see lots of Conservatives.
In the new system Bills which affect England would only be looked at by a Committee made up of MPs from English Constituencies. So MPs in Scotland wouldn’t get on the panel. See you later Scotland.
After this point English MPs (and Welsh MPs depending on the bill) will have two opportunities to veto or block the bill.
When the Bill goes to the House of Lords they may make changes. Any changes would need a “Double Majority” to pass into law. This means a majority of ALL MPs would have to vote YES to the changes; a majority of English and Welsh MPs would also have to vote YES.
Complicated? You have no idea.
Devolution; transferring powers from a higher authority (think: national government in Westminster) to a lower authority (think local government). The government gives away some of its power to local representatives.
At the moment most political power resides in Westminster, London. This is where the Houses of Parliament are, and where the decisions are made. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, where the Scots decided to stay in the UK, more powers were promised to Scotland.
The Smith Commission (which explored the different ways power could be given to Scotland) recommended that the Scottish parliament be given more controls of taxation and welfare.
You may hear the term “West Lothian Question” being thrown around. This refers to the fact that as more powers are handed over from Westminster, English MPs will have less say over matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs do get a say over matters that affect England only. Sounds totally reasonable.
So to make the system a little fairer the government will introduce English Votes for English Laws.
Not surprisingly the Scottish National Party (they have ALL the power in Scotland) is pretty annoyed about this.
They see English Votes for English Laws as a way of cutting them out of the loop and a “cobbled together unworkable mess”. And of course this means everyone is talking about whether we will have another Scottish Independence Referendum. #IndyRef2 more like #tiredofthis?
Depending on which political party you support, English Votes for English Laws will mean different things to you.
Traditionally the Conservatives always do better in England than in other parts of the UK. Labour used to have a lot of power in Scotland and Wales; after this year’s election things have changed a bit.
However that doesn’t mean things can’t change again in the future.
If in the future we had a Labour/SNP coalition in government, the Conservatives could potentially block new laws on the NHS and Schools in England. This is because these are devolved issues, and under the new system, English MPs would get a greater say in what happens. As the Conservatives are likely to have more English MPs, under the new English Votes for English Laws system, they could make it very difficult for a potential Labour/SNP coalition.
Possible outcome; the government in power would not be able to make changes in England. This doesn’t sound so democratic to me.
The Small Print; the next election is five years away, and a LOT can happen between then. We don’t know who will be in government next. It’s possible (but maybe unlikely) that another party could win lots of seats in England. But a system which favours a particular party is probably a bad idea.
Now the Conservatives are in power, Chancellor George Osborne announced an Emergency Budget to improve Britain’s finances. As always, Scenes of Reason decodes the Emergency Budget 2015 for y’all.
Big cuts are coming to the public sector. But reductions in tax for those with low and middle incomes might sweeten the deal.
As in the previous budget, Osborne started with the good news. Britain’s economy is growing faster than any other advanced economy in the world. In fact the growth for last year was 3% higher than the 2.4% estimated.
But. There’s always a “but”.
The Greece Crisis shows the importance of getting our affairs in order.
The Conservatives have announced further cuts to benefits and public services. This was to be expected; it’s what they said they would do. People expected that the cuts would be quick and brutal. But the big surprise of the day was that the cuts announced by Osborne will be brought into effect much more smoothly and over a longer period of time.
No more borrowing; the Chancellor pledges to run a budget surplus by 2020.
– £12 billion to be found in cuts to Welfare benefits. These cuts will be detailed in a document released tomorrow.
– Sorry Students; your Student Maintenance Grants are gone. You’ll have to get a loan from 2016/17. But there will be a consultation on freezing no repayment until you earn £21,000.
– The amount you can earn before you pay any tax, goes up to £11,000. The amount before you pay highest amount of tax goes up from £42,385 to £43,000 next year.
– Introduction of the National Living Wage of £7.20PH for those aged 25 and over. This will rise to £9PH by 2020.
– £8 billion will go to the NHS as promised in the Conservative manifesto.
– Nom-Doms beware. Permanent Non-Domicile status (where you pay less tax if you are registered as living abroad) will be abolished and you will no longer be able to inherit Non-Dom status. Osborne nicked this idea from Labour’s manifesto. Cheeky.
– More money will be given to HMRC to catch tax evaders and tackle tax evasion. Smart move genius.
– The Bank Levy (which taxes the debts of banks) will be replaced by a new 8% charge on bank profits. Is this an attempt to stop HSBC moving to Asia?
– Fuel Duty (tax on fuel) remains frozen. New bands for Vehicle Excise Duty (tax paid on vehicles on the roads) to be introduced; the money collected will go into making new roads. Neat.
– Create a “Northern Powerhouse”; Manchester will get control of the fire service, a land commission and employment programmes. Similar options will be discussed with other northern cities. Local authorities around the country will get the power to set Sunday trading hours in their area.
– Changes to inheritance tax means parents will able to pass on properties worth £1 million to their children without being taxed. Londoners rejoice.
– Companies pay Corporation Tax (a tax on their profits). The amount of tax they pay will drop from 20% to 19% in 2017. It will lower to 18% in 2018.
– Watch out BBC. They’ll be funding free TV licences for over-75s; a duty recently held by government.
– 18-21s will “earn or learn”. There will be no automatic entitlement for housing benefit, except for the vulnerable (who aren’t able to look after themselves due to factors including mental illness or physical disability). Benefits for those of working age will not rise for four years. The total benefits cap for unemployed families will be reduced to £23,000 in London and £20,000 for the rest of the country. Child Tax Credits limited to two children per household from 2017. These cuts to benefits did not go down well with the Opposition parties.
– 30 hours a week of free childcare for parents of 3-4 year olds.
– Rents for social housing reduced 1% a year for the next four years.
– You can sleep easy, Britain; there will be annual increases to the defence budget.
There were lots of boos from the Opposition parties when the benefits cuts were announced. Labour Deputy leader Harriet Harman claimed he was making life worse for working people. She also questioned his figures on economic growth. But she also said that the Labour party was prepared to look at sensible proposals and not just block everything the Tories come up with. Seems fair.
Do you agree with the cuts made by George Osborne in the Emergency Budget? Do you trust the Conservatives to sort out the economy?