Upholding our Right to Housing at the UN

Mercy Foundation asks International Body to find that Australia is violating human rights to housing, an adequate standard of living, and non-discrimination and equality.

On March 9th, the Mercy Foundation appeared before the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The Committee oversees Australia’s progress in realising economic, social and cultural rights, which under international law, it has agreed to respect, protect and fulfil.  These rights include the right to housing, non-discrimination and equality, and an adequate standard of living, among others.

Dr Jessie Hohmann, an internationally recognised expert on the right to housing in international law, assisted the Mercy Foundation in this process.

Economic, social and cultural rights give people dignity and insist that each person is entitled to the goods that make it possible for life to be fulfilling and dignified: safe housing, enough nutritious food, access to health care, and adequate pay for their work, for example.  As rights, they give equal moral worth to people, and insist that material supports are not merely a question of charity, but of humanity.

The Mercy Foundation brought to the Committee’s attention that Australia is failing to make progress toward fulfilling these rights.  Instead, Australia is, in many areas, moving away from ensuring people’s rights.  Over the last few decades, Australia has become an increasingly unequal country, leading to retrogression (or backward steps) in the enjoyment of economic and social rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Wages have not kept up with the cost of living, social supports are inadequate and there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing.  For example, income support has not risen, in real terms, in 25 years.  These background conditions are leading to a housing crisis.  Homelessness is rising.  The price of housing is some of the highest in the world and rentals are increasingly unaffordable. The percentage of social housing has fallen, and there are very long waiting lists to access it, sometimes up to 10 years.  Many people are insecure in their housing, worrying about whether they can keep up with rental or mortgage payments, and where they will go if they can’t.  Older women, and women and children subjected to domestic and family violence, are the fastest growing cohorts experiencing homelessness.

In appearing before the Committee, the Mercy Foundation pointed out that Australia’s lack of progress on realising these rights rests on policy choices, not political, economic or logistical inability.

The Committee asked searching questions about why Australia was not already fulfilling these rights for everyone.  This is a question it will reiterate when the Australian government appears before it in the current United Nations Session.

Australia has the capacity to ensure these rights for all, not just for those already better off.  The Mercy Foundation was honoured to appear before the Committee as part of the United Nations Treaty Process, to advance an agenda of social justice, an end to homelessness, and an adequate standard of living for everyone.

The full text of the Mercy Foundation’s submissions to the Committee can be found here: https://bit.ly/3q78WX8


Sue Mowbray, CEO Mercy Foundation sue.mowbray@mercyfoundation.com.au

Dr Jessie Hohmann, UTS Jessie.Hohmann@uts.edu.au