It would be good to hear more about the work of Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on housing. Today she has hit the headlines in the UK for her investigation into the ‘shocking’ bedroom tax and her subsequent condemnation of it as a violation of the human right to adequate housing.
Rolnik also concluded that Britain’s previously good record on housing was being eroded by a failure to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, and more recently by the impact of welfare reform. Her conclusions could carry weight during legal challenges to the bedroom tax because Britain is a signatory to the International Convention that includes adequate housing as a human right.
Lacking in class as always, Tory Chair(man) Grant Shapps failed to deal with the criticism but launched ‘a crude rant against Rolnik’. On the Today programme he said her comments were ‘an absolute disgrace’. He questioned the right of ‘a woman from Brazil’ to lecture British ministers. He said he intends to write to the UN Secretary General (who of course has nothing better to do) to demand an apology.
So who is this person who dares to be both a woman and a Brazilian?
Rolnik is not just some random person spouting her opinions. As an official (and unpaid) representative of the United Nations, an expert appointed by the Human Rights Council, she travels the world to examine, monitor and report to the General Assembly on whether the signatories to the Convention are fulfilling their responsibilities (to ensure that their populations have adequate housing as an important component of the standard of living and their human rights). She looks at cases of violations against the right to adequate housing, performs official missions to specific countries to investigate the status of the right to housing, and submits an annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN General Assembly in New York.
She is one of 30 thematic rapporteurs, who do not represent the countries of their nationality because their independence is fundamental to ensure their impartiality
During 2012, countries she commented on included Serbia, Cambodia, Israel, Italy, Panama, Portugal, Nigeria, Colombia, Egypt, France, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Russia, India and Nepal.
Humbly I submit that Rolnik is both more important and more expert than G Shapps.
As the man who championed the ending of security of tenure in social housing, Shapps will be particularly annoyed to read her recent report on security of tenure as a component of adequate housing. The report discusses the global tenure insecurity crisis that manifests itself in many ways, including forced evictions, displacement resulting from development, natural disasters and conflicts and land grabbing.
Shapps, and the rest of the British Government, should be ashamed that in the midst of such a global housing crisis the special rapporteur thought it necessary to come to the UK to see the horrendous implications of the Government’s policies and the vindictive and punitive bedroom tax. It is David Cameron who should be apologising for Shapps’ intemperate and disrespectful outburst.
From Rolnik’s report: her key conclusions on the UK:
First, and foremost, I would suggest that the so-called bedroom tax be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals.
Secondly, I would recommend that the Government puts in place a system of regulation for the private rent sector, including clear criteria about affordability, access to information and security of tenure.
Thirdly, I would encourage a renewal of the Government’s commitment to significantly increasing the social housing stock and a more balanced public funding for the stimulation of supply of social and affordable housing which responds to the needs.
You can see various of Rolnik’s speeches on Youtube by just typing in her name, and her work is recorded on a special UN website Housing is a Human Right.