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New campaign highlights daily struggles of UK homeless

Alastair - from leftWhat are the most basic material needs that everyone has in common? We all share the need of the very basic things: shelter, food, water and sanitation. And it is shockingly obvious that these things are becoming increasingly difficult to access in the UK today.

Some examples of ways in which this has been happening over the last few years have included: homeless people being routinely woken in the early hours and had their sleeping places washed  down and left wet so that they could not return to them; Increasing numbers of people, particularly forced migrants and asylum seekers, being left with ‘no recourse to public funds’; and just a few weeks ago police confiscated sleeping bags and other personal items belonging to street homeless people  in Redbridge.

This is not to mention the increase in the numbers of food banks, and the cuts to local authority budgets that are translating into the selling of public toilets and allowing water fountains to fall into disrepair. The list gets longer.

These attacks on the most basic rights of us all, especially vulnerable homeless people, were the starting point for a new campaign, the UK Common Rights Project, which was launched at a Parliamentary reception on 18 December. The campaign draws attention to the everyday struggles that homeless people face to access the things they need for life: shelter, food, water and sanitation. The campaign also highlights the fact that these rights are meant to be guaranteed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and its subsequent interpretation by the committee on economic social and cultural rights.

The Common Rights campaign is led by Housing Justice, the national Christian housing and homelessness charity. The Pavement magazine and Open Cinema were also involved in developing and launching the campaign. The organisers received advice and support from Jonathan Butterworth of Just Fair, acting in a personal capacity. He and Stephen Bowen of the British Institute of Human Rights and Geraldine Van Bueren, of the Queen Mary Collegium of Human Rights spoke at the launch event in Parliament, which was attended by over 80 people from the fields of homelessness, politics, the police, churches and faith and community organisations.

All the speakers at the launch pointed out that the starting point for rights based approaches to exclusion and inequality is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, setting out the fundamental rights of all humanity. The UK is a signatory and Article 25 says that:

‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing…’

In the 1970s, the committee on economic, social and cultural rights expanded the Universal Declaration to include the essential rights this report and new website detail.

In the new documentary film UK Common Rights, made by Open Cinema and premiered at the launch, people who have experienced homelessness in London describe their daily struggles to find the things they need for life. The film can be viewed on the website www.commonrights.org.uk

Ash, who had been homeless, was interviewed for the film. He says: ‘I just come to the Manna Centre, have a shower, clean myself, and sleep in the street. One time I didn’t have a shower for about six or seven days because I didn’t know where to go. Some people in the market [..] gave me some clothes and I go to Liverpool Street station, I change there and wet my old clothes with water and wash my body with wet clothes. The security guard didn’t say anything to me. I said: ‘Sorry I have to wash like this.’ Then after I find some day centres and I go every day and have a shower there. But I remember when I washed myself in the toilet.’

The UK Common Rights Project is a 21st century reminder and re-assertion that everyone should enjoy the right to these things. It is our common duty to make sure that everyone has access to shelter, food, water and sanitation.

For further information about the UK Common Rights Project or to read the report or view the documentary go to www.commonrights.org.uk

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