Professor Aoife Nolan: “Socio-economic rights in a time of austerity”

Professor Aoife NolanOn Friday 22 March, SERAJ hosted a seminar by Prof Aoife Nolan, Professor of International Human Rights Law at the School of Law, Nottingham University, entitled “Socio-economic Rights in a Time of Austerity”.

Attendees of the seminar included Prof Sandra Liebenberg, co-director of SERAJ, Prof Sonia Human, Dean of Law at Stellenbosch University, representatives from Equal Education and the Community Law Centre, and visiting Prof Dr Ulrike Davy from the University of Bielefeld, Prof Dr Benjamin Davy from the School of Spatial Planning, Dortmund University of Technology, Anne Crotty of Business Report and Laura Hilly from Oxford University. Click here to read the full Business Day Report.

The seminar focused on the impact of recent economic crises and national and supranational responses thereto. The impact has not merely been a “Global North problem”, and a recent study by the World Bank has shown that fuel and food crises experienced by developing countries have resulted from or been exacerbated by economic and financial crises. Moreover, austerity measures and excessive economic contraction have spread beyond those countries originally affected by the economic downturn.

A human-rights based approach to recovery from the crises can help alleviate the disproportionate and devastating impact on already vulnerable groups. However, the Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights has failed to engage in detail with the financial crises, their causes and impact, only attempting to issue some substantive guidance in 2012. On the other hand, the European Committee on Social Rights has found certain aspects of austerity measures to be in violation of the Charter in GENOP-DEI and ADEDY v Greece and IKA-ETAM v Greece.

In the UK, post-crisis challenges to welfare reform have been largely unsuccessful, with some noteworthy exceptions. In other jurisdictions such as Latvia, legislation aimed at reducing budget deficits has been found to be unconstitutional owing, inter alia, to the availability of less restrictive means to achieve the same goal. In Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court has scrutinised the process by which the legislature had set welfare assistance and required the legislature to disclose the methods and stages of calculation.

Nolan concluded the seminar by highlighting the role of socio-economic rights lawyers going forward. Constructive advocacy may include the building of new partnership as well as the exploration of the EU/ECJ avenue, whereas lawyers must adopt a proactive rather than a reactive stance.

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