Social security is a human right – not just a nice thing


Judith Robertson explains why she believes there is a public misconception about the right to social security 

Judith Robertson explains why she believes there is a public misconception about the right to social security 

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25th May 2017 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

As it rolls out new social security powers, I firmly believe the Scottish Government has the opportunity to establish a transformative, world-leading system of social security with legal protection for people’s human rights and a culture of respect for people’s dignity at its heart. A system that builds a Scotland that’s better for everyone.

The welfare reform agenda that has taken hold in recent years has had a significantly detrimental impact on people’s rights to an adequate standard of living. It has also disproportionately and seriously affected people whose rights are more vulnerable, including disabled people, women, children and young people, and people from black and ethnic minority communities.

Judith Robertson

Judith Robertson

So, there is both a need and an opportunity for Holyrood to get it right when it comes to using its new powers.

In our work to advise on the new system, we spoke with many people – including civil servants, campaigners and people using social security – who didn’t know that social security is a human right. There is a general lack of understanding that social security is not just a nice to have – it is an entitlement set out in international human rights laws.

We also found that people didn’t understand that the right to social security is fundamental to other human rights like the rights to housing, employment, education, food and independent living. A social security system based on human rights principles would mean children grow up in an environment that helps them thrive, disabled people are supported to live independently, women leaving domestic abuse have fewer financial hurdles in their way and nobody needs to use a foodbank. These are just a few examples.

We want to improve understanding of the right to social security. We want to work with government to take forward the duties established by the human rights legal framework. And we want to help people who use social security – almost all of us in one way or another – understand their rights, so that they can campaign more effectively for improvements and be better equipped to hold the Scottish Government to account.

To help improve understanding, the commission has produced a short animation to explain what the right to social security means in practice. The animation uses everyday examples to illustrate the human rights involved, helping to show how the right to social security affects so many aspects of our day-to-day lives. 

Your right to social security in Scotland from SNAPhumanrights on Vimeo.


Launched on social media with the hashtag #RightToSocialSecurity, the animation is intended to be a practical resource for others to use to help inform their own advocacy.

Scotland has an opportunity to be progressive and bold when it comes to protecting and realising the right to social security. The commission will continue to work with the Scottish Government, parliament, and civil society to ensure this opportunity is realised in practice. 

Judith Robertson is chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission

29th May 2017 by Craig Crosthwaite

I know that Social Security is a UN Convention of Human Rights item, but this article does not define what the Convention sets as the bar for such a right. It would would have been good if it had been explained what level of social support the "right" seeks to offer to citizens. My current understanding is that for this right to be universal it sets a minimum level which is subsistence. That means the U.K. Already provides a level of support higher than the right seeks. So, why would the Scottish Government seek to provide higher levels and how is that protected within this right. No details. More information would have been good rather than just stating it is a right.