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Essentials Guarantee Campaign

The Guarantee our Essentials Campaign (GoE) led by the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is calling for the government to enshrine in law a guarantee that Universal Credit amounts will cover people’s basic requirements. Their research has found that Universal Credit standard allowance is less than the cost of common essentials for a single person contributing to hundreds of thousands of people forced to use food banks because they can’t make ends meet. The GoE campaign calls for an Essentials Guarantee that would be enshrined in law and that an independent process would regularly determine the “Essentials Guarantee” level at which Universal Credit (after deductions) should not fall below.   If implemented, this measure would make sure, that while in receipt of Universal Credit, “everyone will be able to afford essential costs and maintain their health, well-being and dignity”.

The GoE campaign appears to be aligned with the Right to Social Security as it deals with a key aspect of the right – adequacy of benefits. By calling for an Essentials Guarantee, the GoE campaign is in effect demanding the ‘inadequacy’ of social security benefits be addressed, to ensure that universal credit is sufficient so that people can access their right to an adequate standard of living.

General Comment 19 on the Right to Social Security highlights that ‘Adequacy’ is among the key components of the right. The Committee on ESC Rights in General Comment 19 has stated, Regarding the adequacy of social security benefits, the CESCR has stated in paragraph 22: “Benefits, whether in cash or in kind, must be adequate in amount and duration in order that everyone may realize his or her rights to family protection and assistance, an adequate standard of living and adequate access to health care [emphasis added], as contained in articles 10, 11 and 12 of the Covenant. States parties must also pay full respect to the principle of human dignity contained in the preamble of the Covenant, and the principle of non-discrimination, so as to avoid any adverse effect on the levels of benefits and the form in which they are provided. Methods applied should ensure the adequacy of benefits. The adequacy criteria should be monitored regularly to ensure that beneficiaries are able to afford the goods and services they require to realize their Covenant rights [emphasis added].”

The call for an Essentials Guarantee is also in line with ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202). As articulated by the Recommendation 202, social protection floors are nationally defined sets of social security guarantees that at a minimum should provide access to essential healthcare and to basic income security for all those in need over the life cycle. ILO Recommendation 202 states that national social protection floors should include at least four essential guarantees: (a) Access to at least essential healthcare, including maternity care; (b) Basic income security for children, providing access to nutrition, education, care and any other necessary goods and services; (c) Basic income security for persons of working age who are unable to earn sufficient income, in particular in cases of sickness, unemployment, maternity and disability; (d) Basic income security for older persons. Particularly with in relation to the calls made by the GoE campaign, the General Recommendation in paragraph 8 also states, “basic income security should allow life in dignity. Nationally defined minimum levels of income may correspond to the monetary value of a set of necessary goods and services, national poverty lines, income thresholds for social assistance or other comparable thresholds established by national law or practice, and may take into account regional differences”; and “the levels of basic social security guarantees should be regularly reviewed through a transparent procedure that is established by national laws, regulations or practice, as appropriate”.

The adequacy of benefits is also the focus of the ILO Convention 102 (Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952). [Parts of the ILO Convention 102 (Parts II to V, VII and X) have been ratified by the UK which includes social protection measures relating to medical care, sickness benefits, unemployment benefits, old age benefits, family benefits and survivor benefits]. ILO’s Committee of Experts has regularly criticized the UK for failing to fulfil its obligations under this and other ILO Conventions. A recent paper by the Institute for Employment Rights highlights that in 2016, the Committee of Experts criticized the UK government as it observed “a clear intention of the United Kingdom not to comply its ‘obligation to maintain social security benefits at least at the minimum level guaranteed by these international instruments.” It also said “…While such policies were indeed common in Europe in the nineteenth century, in the twenty-first century the international community believes that ‘basic income security should allow life in dignity’ and ‘secure protection aimed at preventing or alleviating poverty”.


It appears that the calls in the Essentials Guarantee Campaign are in line with ICESCR, ILO Convention 102 (ratified by the UK) and ILO General Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors.