Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum

Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros (Edinburgh Law School) reports on a recent workshop, ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’, held at the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Oñati, Spain with support from the Global Justice Academy.

Organised by Professors Mike Adler (University of Edinburgh), Sara Stendahl (University of Gothenburg) and Jeff King (UCL), the purpose of the workshop was to bring together international experts from a variety of research backgrounds to discuss the theme of ‘Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum’. The overarching issue that was examined related to the difficulties in determining how poor and vulnerable people can achieve basic minimum standards of nutrition, health care, housing, income, employment and education.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, including legal theory, human rights law, constitutional and administrative law and social policy, the invited academic speakers were asked to submit research papers illustrating recent developments and new challenges in this field. The workshop followed a particularly innovative approach in generating discussion. Commentators were assigned to each paper and were responsible for presenting its content while also acting as discussants, providing feedback and identifying points for further discussion. This facilitated in-depth consideration of each paper and multiple opportunities for exchange of ideas across disciplines.

The conference theme generated debate on two controversial issues. Firstly, the workshop addressed different approaches and obstacles to defining a social minimum. This included discussion on the concept of poverty, the legal position of social assistance recipients, the concepts of social rights and social responsibilities, and the relationship between resources and the concept of a ‘minimally decent life’.
Secondly, the workshop aimed to bring further clarity to the thorny issue of how such a minimum can be achieved. More specifically, participants critically assessed the contribution of national policies, international conventions, targets and development goals, bills of rights or other forms of constitutional protection to securing this social minimum. Special emphasis was placed on the role of courts. Participants presented judicial approaches to securing a social minimum from India, South Africa, Brazil, and at the international level, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Kagiaros’ paper focused on the role of the European Court of Human Rights in this debate. The paper relied on recent admissibility decisions where applicants unsuccessfully challenged austerity measures adopted to give effect to conditionality agreements in states in the midst of a debt crisis. While ultimately the applications failed at the admissibility stage, the Court in obiter statements alluded to the possibility that a wholly insufficient amount of pensions and other benefits would, in principle, violate the Convention. The paper explored these statements in detail to decipher whether in fact the Court would be willing to set a social minimum standard of protection. The paper argued, that although a duty not to target specific individuals with harsh austerity measures while leaving others unaffected has been read into the ECHR, it is unlikely that with this statement on insufficiency of benefits the Court intends to create a social minimum.

Overall, this was a particularly enriching experience for all involved and hopefully more similar opportunities will arise to discuss these issues in even greater depth.

More about the author:

Dr. Dimitrios Kagiaros is a Teaching Fellow in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law. He has taught on constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law courses at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Hull. His research interests include whistle-blower protection, the impact of European sovereign debt crisis on human rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to freedom of expression.

 

 

‘Buildings are for (Some) People’: Reconsidering Architecture and the Struggle for Urban Space

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GJA Student Ambassador, James Gacek

The Global Justice Academy is delighted to post its second book review of the 2016-17 academic year as part of its Student Ambassador Programme. James Gacek is reading for a PhD in Law. Here, he review’s Bill Caplan’s Buildings are for People as part of our Urban Justice Lab.

Exploring the interactions between people and the natural environment, Bill Caplan’s Buildings are for People: Human Ecological Design issues a clarion call for the design/build professions to critically assess architecture, green design and sustainability in the context of human ecology—that is, the examination between people, community spaces and the ecosystem which surrounds and penetrates us.

Such a focus is significant, as sustainable building has gained resonance in recent professional and academic accounts (Jones & Card, 2011). The built environment of urban spaces has the potential to alter “our living environment in material and experiential ways, shaping the character of human experience, the physical, mental and economic wellbeing of individuals and the community at large” (Caplan, 2016, p. xvi, italics in original). Caplan’s book is a unique approach to further understanding the process of conceiving architectural design, while both highlighting the social aspects of human interaction as well as the benefits of ‘green’ and sustainable architectural designs.

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An Urban Justice Project: Winchburgh Futures (January-May 2016)

Global Justice Academy Co-Director, Dr Tahl Kaminer, reflects on the Winchburgh Futures project that ran in ESALA at the beginning of this year.

An ESALA (Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture) team studied (2016) the current urban development around Winchburgh, West Lothian, in which a ring of 2000 or more housing units and a medium-scale town centre are being developed around an existing mining village of 2000 residents. The team responded to local residents’ request for support and advice regarding concerns for community cohesion and quality of development.

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Equality and the Democratic Deficit

This post by Global Justice Co-Director, Dr Tahl Kaminer, reports from the first Urban Justice Lab Symposium: ‘Who Saved the City?’. Follow the link at the bottom of the post to our Lecture Library to view videos from the day and to find out more about the Urban Justice Lab and what it does.

Who Saved the City

The recent exposure of a letter by David Cameron to Oxfordshire County Council (as reported in the Oxford Mail, and The Guardian), in which the PM berates the council for front-line budget cuts, generated a minor storm on social media. Less than a fortnight earlier, Annette Hastings of the University of Glasgow presented the findings of a Rowntree Foundation report, which lucidly depicted the application of cuts to front-line budgets of city councils across the UK. Her eloquent and precise presentation demonstrated vividly why the government’s cuts necessarily hit front-line spending, and particularly the poor.

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Regeneration in an Edinburgh Neighbourhood: the Craigmillar Project Report

In 2014-15, the Global Justice Academy launched its Urban Justice Lab. Based on the MIT-pioneered model to address global challenges, the Urban Justice Lab creates space for discussions and debates as well as collaborations in research, teaching, and outreach for university academics that study or operate on the city.

Dr Tahl Kaminer, GJA Co-Director (Urban Justice Lab), is a Lecturer in Architectural Design and Theory at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA). One track of Tahl’s research studies the means of social amelioration via urban transformation. In 2014, students from the MSc programme in Urban Strategies and Design produced the Craigmillar Project Report – an extensive analysis of the Edinburgh neighbourhood, of the regeneration project, and of current conditions. 

L-R: ‘Charlie’s Bus’ Craigmillar Festival playscheme Bus, historical photograph by Andrew Crummy; Craigmillar flats, photograph by David Flutcher; the White House in Craigmillar, photograph by John Lord.

L-R: ‘Charlie’s Bus’ Craigmillar Festival playscheme Bus, historical photograph by Andrew Crummy; Craigmillar flats, photograph by David Flutcher; the White House in Craigmillar, photograph by John Lord.

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The Resilience of Neoliberal Urbanism

TSVeneziaThis guest post is by Dr Tom Slater, Reader in Urban Geography at the University of Edinburgh. It first appeared in January 2014 on openDemocracy, in the openSecurity: Conflict and Peacebuilding theme.

On 27 January 2014, I noticed a few tweets announcing the Guardian’s new “Cities” section. The newspaper has a track record of publishing excellent short essays addressing urban issues, especially in its “Comment is Free” section, so I confess to initial interest and perhaps even mild excitement.  Then I read two of the introductory pitches by the editorial team, delivered with an intention to “start the debate”. The first was by editor Mike Herd, entitled “What makes your city so special?” the sort of emetic rubric you might expect to find a ‘Business Traveller’ section of an in-flight magazine. Here is how he invited browsers to contribute:

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Why We Blame the Victim, and Why We Have To Stop: a Perspective from a Historian

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Dr Michelle Brock is an Assistant Professor of History at Washington and Lee University, specialising in British History. In this guest post, Mikki examines the culture of ‘victim blaming’ that has been reinvigorated in the United States over the past six months, from the perspective of an early-modernist who researches belief and the Devil.

From the decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner to the disturbing Rolling Stone article on a brutal gang rape at UVA, this country has produced a harrowing month of news. The reaction of much of the American public to these stories has been as distressing as their content. Many have turned not to self-searching or activism, but to stereotype and judgement. They rush to point out that Brown and Garner had, after all, committed crimes, drawing on centuries-old racial tropes to point out their size or comment that they were acting like “thugs” with “bad attitudes.” When they hear about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses across the country, they question the victim’s dress, behaviour, and alcohol consumption, wondering if not explicitly saying that she might have been “asking for it.” In short, we are a country that blames the victims.

Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

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