The cost-of-living crisis, a human rights issue?

Over the past 12 months, the UK has been experiencing a cost-of-living crisis. Fuel prices have skyrocketed, the cost of food has risen, the demand on foodbanks is unprecedented, gas and electricity bills have doubled, Universal Credit benefit has been cut, and national insurance contributions have risen.  

This blog will demonstrate that the cost-of-living crisis is a human rights issue and conclude that framing it as such is integral to the realisation and protection of our rights in order to #makerightsreal.  

What is the cost-of-living crisis? 

In a pre-pandemic world, there were alarming rates of poverty across the UK as a result of 10 plus years of austerity measures. In fact in 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, issued the UK warnings around the austerity measures and how they were interfering with the realisation of our human rights. However like many things, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and exacerbated poverty in the UK, having a more detrimental impact upon those most vulnerable.  

The cost-of-living crisis is a term used to describe the impact of the rise of inflation, the increase cost of fuel, the cuts to benefits and the high demand on foodbanks.  

In order to #makerightsreal, let’s have a look at these issues in a little more depth… 


  • Inflation has risen to 9%, the highest in Europe[1]  and the worst since 1982 [2]
  • Universal Credit was reduced by £20 to its pre-pandemic level. 
  • Household energy bills increased by 54% in April 2022 [3]
  • Rise in national insurance contributions [4]


  • Last month, the Trussel Trust published astonishing new statistics, one of them being that within a year there has been an 81% increase in foodbank usage.[5]
  • The Bank of England described the impact of rising food prices as ‘apocalyptic’ and this current situation was ‘the worst cost of living crisis in 40 years.’[6]
  • The government’s own internal analysis of the cuts to Universal Credit found that this policy will ‘likely cause “catastrophic suffering, pushing 800,000 people into poverty. [7]
  • In the UK in 2020-21, 3.9 million children were living in poverty. [8]
  • ‘Children from Black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to be in poverty: 46 per cent are now in poverty, compared with 26 per cent of children in white British families’[9]
  • The Resolution Foundation has estimated that absolute poverty will rise in 2022/23 by 1.3 million including 500,000 children.[10] 

What does this mean in terms of human rights? 

Under international human rights law, International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[11], we have rights such as an adequate standard of living, social security, health and food. The state is legally bound to ‘progressively realise’ these rights, an obligation of non-regression and to protect these rights. 

Human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. This simply means that when we infringe, violate or fail to protect one of our human rights, it has a detrimental impact on other rights. For example, if we do not have access to social security(Article 9 ICESCR) it can have a detrimental impact on our standard of living i.e not being able to afford to pay for heating/electricity (Article 11 ICESCR). In turn, this can then have an impact on a person’s mental or physical health(Article 12 ICESCR) and can impede on both the adult and child’s engagement with education (Article 13 ICESCR, Article 28 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNCRC). 


At the heart of human rights law we have our underpinning value, dignity. This principle is there to guide us in the interpretation of our human rights, to #makerightsreal. When we hear stories of elderly persons who use their bus passes to ride the bus all day in order to keep warm, or the single mum of 5 who is worried about the fuel price impact on her children stating that her young baby has had bronchitis six times in the last 2 months[12] or our Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, advising the nation to ‘heat the human, not the home’ and to ‘reduce prescription costs’[13]  These stories beg the question, where is our dignity? Afterall, it is the realisation of our human rights that are required to live a life of dignity and respect. None of these stories or solutions describe a dignified standard of living. 

Concluding remarks 

Framing the cost-of-living crisis as a human rights issue can: empower us to name and claim our rights; hold the government to account for regressing our human rights and not ‘progressively realising’ our economic, social and cultural rights. 

Rising levels of poverty in the UK are unfortunately not a new issue. However with the sudden influx of rising inflation, cuts to benefits and fuel prices skyrocketing, there are unprecedented levels of uncertainty, particularly for those who are most at risk. Recognising that these changes are having a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority communities[14], CEMVO Scotland calls upon both the UK and Scottish Government to implement more action to stop further violation of people’s human rights. 

If you are experiencing financial difficulty or would like to learn more about how to budget and manage your money during these difficult times, CEMVO Scotland has a Financial Capability service. Please contact Helen McCabe for further information at, 

Footnote Information

[11] The UK ratified ICESCR in 1972 and it will soon be incorporated into Scots Law through the New Scottish Human Rights Bill

[13] for those south of the border

[14] In 2019/20, poverty rates were highest for people in households where the head of the household is from the Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnic groups and lowest for those from White ethnic groups. Bangladeshi and Pakistani have the highest rates of in-work poverty rates

Clare Gallagher
Clare GallagherHuman Rights Officer

8th July, 2020