Housing, food and fuel poverty protections in the spotlight

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Legal frameworks to protect citizens’ rights to a decent standard of living will be explored by a University of Stirling academic.

Dr Katie Boyle is leading a £338,000 study – funded by the Nuffield Foundation – that will examine barriers people face in accessing justice for violations of social rights, including in relation to housing, social security and poverty.

Dr Boyle, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at Stirling, said: “The project seeks to better understand the existing gaps between social rights in international human rights law – and the practice, policy and legal frameworks across the UK at the domestic level.

“It aims to propose substantive legal solutions – embedding good practice early-on in decision-making, as well as proposing new legal structures and developing effective remedies for the most vulnerable when violations occur. This will mean proposing substantive change to the conception of ‘justice’ as well as the means of accessing it.”

Food bank

The project will be informed by data from interviews with practitioners, including lawyers and charity professionals, who support rights-holders experiencing violations of social rights, as well as research into domestic and international law related to social rights.

Dr Boyle added: “There is a particular focus on the right to adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing, the right to social security and the right to freedom from poverty –including fuel poverty and food poverty.

“An examination of these rights also connects to the full spectrum of international human rights law, such as employment rights, health, education and broader issues around substantive equality. The UK does not currently protect these rights in accordance with international law as a matter of course and we need to take a step back and look at the full picture and ask whether people have access to justice when their rights are violated.

“Uniquely, the project examines the status of the rights and the routes to remedy for violations, in each of the devolved jurisdictions.

“The research, therefore, aims to provide a clearer picture of social rights violations and access to justice as experienced in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.”

Image of Dr Katie Boyle

Dr Katie Boyle, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law

Rob Street, Nuffield Foundation’s Director for Justice, said: “This project seeks to better understand the barriers people face in accessing justice when their right to an adequate standard of living has been breached. The research is particularly timely given debates around the rights agenda related to Brexit and changes to social security.”

The project will be supported by an advisory group of experts from around the world who specialise in social rights law, research methods and the lived experience of accessing justice for social rights violations.


Dr Boyle is a member of the First Minister of Scotland’s advisory group on human rights leadership, which in December recommended a new framework to improve people’s daily lives. Dr Boyle’s work was also cited in a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee and by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in a report on access to justice.

Dr Boyle also authored a Scottish Human Rights Commission report that suggested Scotland can show the world how international human rights can be effectively enshrined in law.

The University is seeking to appoint a Social Rights Research Fellow to work with Dr Boyle on her new project and details can be found online.

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