There has been much focus on the role of the European Court of Human Rights over the last number of days (see, here and here). A less well known body, the European Committee on Social Rights, is responsible for assessing Ireland’s compliance with the European Social Charter (Revised). The European Social Charter protects a number of social and economic rights, such as employment rights, right to health care, social security, an adequate standard of living etc. Ireland has freely accepted to abide by a large number of obligations (but not all) under the European Social Charter. As my summary of the Committee’s conclusions below show, this report is somewhat of a mixed bag. It is important to note that the Committee on Social Rights examined Ireland’s compliance with the European Social Charter from 2008 to 2011, so a number of important issues that arose since 2011 are not considered, including the attacks on youth right to full rate unemployment benefit/assistance; maternity benefit cuts; the cumulative impact of successive regressive budgets on those who are already poor and marginalised. In addition, it was somewhat disappointing that the Committee did not mention or consider the social and economic rights of asylum seekers (as it has done in collective complaints).
The European Committee on Social Rights has released its Conclusions on Ireland for 2013 on a number of different rights protected by the European Social Charter, including:
- Article 3: Right to safe and healthy work conditions;
- Article 11: Right to protection of health;
- Article 12: Right to social security (this generally refers to contributory social welfare payments);
- Article 13: Right to medical assistance and social assistance (social assistance generally refers to non-contributory social welfare payments)
- Article 14: Right to benefit from social welfare services;
- Article 23:Right of elderly persons to social protection;
- Article 30: Right to be protected against poverty and social exclusion.
The European Committee on Social Rights assessed Ireland’s report (here and here) as regards whether the Irish social, welfare and legal system respected the above listed rights. A significant issue that arose for the Committee was Ireland simply refusing to provide any information in its reports on how it was meeting specified obligations. Ireland did not provide the Committee with any information on a number of issues, including: on a right to safe and healthy work conditions; aspects of the right to protection of health; development of the social security system
The European Committee on Social Rights found that Ireland was in conformity with its obligations. as regards:
- The maintenance of a social security system in line with the European Code of Social Security;
- The level of social assistance for welfare payments for job-seekers, people with disabilities, widows/ers, one parent families is adequate, conforming, in part, to obligations on right to medical and social assistance;
- The Committee also found that Ireland was meeting its obligations as regards the right to be protected against poverty and social exclusion.
Committee finding Ireland was not in conformity with its obligations under European Social Charter (Revised) in a number of ways, in particular:
- The minimum levels of sickness, unemployment, survivor’s, employment injury and invalidity benefits are inadequate. It should be noted that this refers to social security benefits, for which individuals have made their contributions to rather than non-contributory social assistance payments.
- The operation of the social security system and accumulation of insurance and employment periods for certain nationals from counties party to the European Social Charter;
- Right to access healthcare for legal migrants and operation of the habitual residence condition against migrants, breaches aspects of Ireland’s obligations to provide for a right to social and medical assistance.
- Ireland is violating aspects of Article 14, by not establishing that the quality of services provided by non-state bodies meets users needs.
On issues relating to the right of the elderly to social protection, the Committee on Social Rights requested further information on the legal framework in place relating to assisted decision making, minimum income guarantees for all elderly people; prevention of elder abuse; institutional care of the elderly. However, Ireland’s report did not address any of these significant issues.
Overall, the report is not as damning as it potentially could have been. In 2015, Ireland’s record on social, economic and cultural rights will be examined before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see here for a primer). This will provide an updated rights assessment as to whether Ireland is complying with its international obligations to respect, protect, vindicate and, if necessary, fulfill, the social, economic and cultural rights of all those in Ireland.