National equality bodies hold the key to protecting social and economic rights

Countries have a higher success rate of reducing discrimination in economic and social rights if they include socio-economic status in their anti-discrimination legislation. This is one of the conclusions from Equinet Europe’s new perspective on ‘Equality bodies contributing to the protection, respect and fulfilment of economic and social rights’.

The report calls for the mandate of national equality bodies (NEBs) – independent organisations that monitor and report on discrimination and promote equality – to be extended to cover socio-economic rights. Today, six NEBs in the EU have the authority to monitor these rights (Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia). Fighting discrimination on socio-economic grounds would lead to an increased understanding of the specific needs of particular groups of disadvantaged people and “challenge the adverse impact of policies, plans and budgets on these groups”. Social Platform agrees and has long called for socio-economic status to be recognised as a ground of discrimination. For example, a person who is homeless will likely face barriers in accessing services such as health care and a bank account (as this often requires a fixed address). At the same time, if a person is discriminated on the labour market because of their ethnic background or transgender identity they will run a greater risk of becoming homeless.

While protecting socio-economic rights is particularly important when faced with austerity policies, such an economic climate can actually make protecting these rights more difficult; NEBs casework can either grow due to the sheer volume of people being discriminated against, or it can dry up as people are scared of losing their job or social security.

NEBs’ work includes supporting and representing victims of discrimination or hearing and mediating cases. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission – the United Kingdom’s NEB – is examining the legality of the government’s Bedroom Tax which caps housing benefits if a person is living in a housing association or council property that has one or more spare bedrooms. Hungary’s NEB, the Equal Treatment Authority, is investigating several cases of unfair working conditions for people belonging to vulnerable groups, including Roma people and older workers. NEBs also contribute to making economic and social rights more visible through their work and data gathering, resulting in publications such as ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ and the Diversity Barometer in Belgium. Some NEBs also monitor human rights instruments and provide training for stakeholders.

Equinet Europe works together with other stakeholders, including Social Platform, and with service providers to implement equality, diversity and non-discrimination practices. It brings together 45 organisations that act as NEBs in 33 European countries. By empowering victims of discrimination, NEBs contribute to people’s understanding of their economic and social rights and play a key role in reducing discrimination in our societies.

Read about Social Platform’s work on Equality and Anti-Discrimination.