Theresa May

Three reasons why the Prime Minister shouldn’t withdraw from the European Convention

Media reports yesterday suggested that Number 10 will delay proposals for a British Bill of Rights until after the process to leave the European Union has been completed. The reports also revealed that the Prime Minister,Theresa May could put plans to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in her 2020 Conservative Party manifesto. According to the Telegraph, the Prime Minister might attempt to “lift and shift” the ECHR into UK law. This process would involve replicating the ECHR in a new British Bill of Rights. The British Supreme Court would then be handed the responsibility for enforcing this new Bill of Rights. It is unclear how far these plans have advanced. The Telegraph reported that the PM “will” put these plans in her manifesto, while the Guardian reported that this is a campaign by some Conservative MPs to persuade her to withdraw from the ECHR. Theresa May should resist these calls for three key reasons.  

Northern Ireland

The first, and perhaps most crucial reason why Theresa May should not withdraw from the ECHR is its significance in Northern Ireland. When the Good Friday Agreement was being drafted in the 1990s, the British and Irish governments, as well as Northern Irish political representatives used the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg as a final court of arbitration to which aggrieved parties could apply for recourse. The rationale behind this was to provide nationalists in Northern Ireland - who were deeply suspicious of the Northern Irish Police Service who they considered to be unionists - with greater confidence and trust in the legal system. Following the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Irish Police Service were required to abide by the ECHR and anyone who was not satisfied with their conduct could ultimately take their complaint the ECtHR.

The Good Friday Agreement explicitly requires that the ECHR has continual legal effect in Northern Ireland. The proposed model of lift and shift, and the replacement of the ECtHR with the British Supreme Court would not satisfy this requirement. The UK Government would therefore be required to renegotiate significant parts of the Good Friday Agreement in order to withdraw the UK from the ECHR. It is difficult to see how the UK Government could easily replace the ECtHR in any new agreement. Part of the reason that the ECtHr was able to reduce suspicion of the Northern Irish Police Service was because the Strasbourg Court was an international court, not considered to be British or unionist by nature. Replacing the ECtHr with the British Supreme Court would run the considerable risk of alienating Northern Irish nationalists and halting the renegotiation process.

If a new agreement was struck between the British and Irish governments and relevant parties in Northern Ireland, then it is probable that the agreement would require referendums in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to approve it. This is because the original agreement was approved by such referendums. The UK could not avoid this Northern Ireland problem by withdrawing just England, Wales and Scotland from the ECHR. Signatories to the ECHR are required to be members of the Council of Europe - an intergovernmental organisation which only accepts nation states as members.

Preventing human rights abuses abroad

The second reason why Theresa May should resist calls to withdraw from the ECHR is because the Convention helps prevent human rights abuses abroad. There are currently 47 signatories of to the ECHR. Many of these are Northern European states with robust human rights protections, but there are also countries which have weaker human rights records.. The most striking example is Russia.

Russia has been a signatory to the ECHR since 1998. The country makes up a considerable amount of the Strasbourg Court’s caseload with around 20,000 cases against it waiting to be processed. This compares to under 3,000 for the UK. Russia has frequently been frustrated by the judgments of the ECHR. For example, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, was particularly annoyed by the ECtHR’s call for prisoners’ voting rights in Russia - a judgment which has proved similarly controversial in the UK. To date, the judgment has been ignored by Russia. Yet, the ECHR has led to concrete legal changes in Russia. The country has established a compensation system for those affected by the non-execution of domestic judgments, a problem which the ECtHR believes hurt "perhaps hundreds of thousands of people" in Russia.

Russia has also introduced new legislation on prison overcrowding, it has removed daylight-obscuring shutters from prison cell windows which were previously present in all cells. Since the ratification of the ECHR, Russian courts have sped up their working times considerably and the number of journalists been convicted of libel has reduced substantially. Moreover, the Russian constitutional court now routinely makes reference to ECtHR judgments in its rulings.

Last December, in response to judgments by the ECHR, Russia introduced a new law affirming the supremacy of its Constitutional Court over the Strasbourg Court. The new law allows the Russian Constitutional Court to declare rulings of international bodies “impossible to implement”. The law caused controversy abroad with many European media outlets reporting it to be an effective withdrawal from the ECHR by Russia. The ECtHR itself has been more sanguine about the law. The Council of Europe’s Secretary-General, Thorbjørn Jagland, has suggested that a “solution” to the problem of this new law should be possible: He stated that “…it will be up to the Constitutional Court of Russia to ensure respect for the Convention if it is called upon to act under the new provisions”.

This new law shows the hostility towards the judgments of the ECtHR among the Russian Government. If the UK were to withdraw from the ECHR, then this would provide Russia with the perfect excuse to do the same. This would have significant and negative effects on human rights and the rule of law in Russia.

The Supreme Court

The final reason why Theresa May should not withdraw from the ECHR is because it is unclear what changes critics want. In yesterday’s Telegraph report, Jeremy Wright, the Attorney General, is quoted as saying that “although we have no quarrel with the content of the ECHR, it is the way in which that document is applied that gives us difficulty.” This combined with the claim that the UK Government might lift and shift the ECHR suggests that the Government may choose to replicate the content of the ECHR entirely in a new British Bill of Rights and charge the UK Supreme Court with enforcing the rights held in this new British Bill of Rights.

In recent months, Conservative MPs and the more popular press have shown they are not adverse to strongly criticising the British legal system. Following the High Court’s decision to require a Parliamentary vote on the triggering of Article 50 - the device which begins the process of the UK leaving the European Union - the judges were declared “enemies of the people” by the Daily Mail. If the Supreme Court was charged with a new British Bill of Rights which included the ECHR, then it is highly likely that it would have to provide judgments which frustrated the UK Government and some elements of the press. The act of balancing the rights of different groups is inherently difficult and potentially controversial.

If Conservative MPs want the Supreme Court to take over the responsibilities of the ECtHR, then they must articulate where they believe that the ECtHR is mistaken in its interpretation of the ECHR. Until they do so, it is unclear whether the Supreme Court will be able to allay their criticisms.


The Prime Minister should resist calls to withdraw from the ECHR. The problem of Northern Ireland on its own should be enough to halt this plan in its tracks. The Good Friday Agreement was one of the most significant British political developments of the last 50 years. Withdrawing from the ECHR would require the Government to enter an extremely complicated period of renegotiation. But the ECHR benefits the UK in other ways. It allows human rights to be upheld in countries which have a more strained relationship with the concept. The most striking example of this is Russia. Since the ECHR was ratified in Russia in 1998, there have been significant and positive changes in Russian law. Yet, the Russian Government is clearly hostile to the Convention and to the Strasbourg Court. If the UK were to withdraw from the ECHR, then it would provide Russia with the perfect excuse to do the same. Finally, the plan to replicate the ECHR and replace the ECtHR with the British Supreme Court is flawed. It is highly likely that the Supreme Court’s judgments would prove equally controversial among some MPs and some parts of the press.

James Dobson is a researcher at Bright Blue


Making social reform work for disabled people

In her first speech as Prime Minister Theresa May set out her “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”. She spoke of helping those who are “just about managing” and promised that her Government will do “everything they can” to give people more control over their lives.

Here at Scope, we recognise the image of people who are “just about managing”. We know many people who want more control over their lives.

Life costs more if you’re disabled. On average disabled people spend £550 a month on disability-related outgoings. It makes making ends meet much harder.

Only around half of disabled people work, despite the vast majority wanting to work and hundreds of thousands of disabled people being ready to work and looking for a job right now.

There are still too many societal barriers getting in the way of disabled people living independent lives.

So we were pleased to partner with Bright Blue at Conservative Party Conference to host a discussion about how government can make the social reform the Prime Minister promises work for disabled people.

Action is needed in three key areas if we are to see greater opportunities for the 12.9 million disabled people in the UK:

Tackling the disability employment gap

The 2015 Conservative Manifesto included a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which has remained at around 30% for the last decade.  The upcoming Green Paper on disability, health and employment provides the Government with an opportunity to make this goal a reality. For a reduction in the disability employment gap to be sustainable, and meaningful, we need to ensure disabled people are not just getting into work, but that disabled people are able to stay in work too.

Disabled people tell us how important schemes such as Access to Work are for helping them maintain employment and stay in the workplace, but there is also a significant role for employers to play. Employers need to be flexible in their approach to supporting disabled employees and must work more closely with local health and care services, local disability organisations and skills providers to find and support the right disabled people for the jobs they create. Of course, many employers are doing great work already to recruit, retain and develop disabled staff but we still have a way to go until this becomes the norm.

Investing in care services that enable people to live independently

Many disabled people rely on social care to support them to live independently, yet according to recent NHS statistics only 34% of social care users have as much choice and control as they want over their lives. As the Government moves to further integrate health and social care systems to drive efficiencies particularly in the support provided to older people, it should also consider how public services for disabled people might be integrated to support working age disabled adults to participate in their communities, study or enter employment.

Tackling the extra costs that disabled people face

Many disabled people worry about the costs of living, and have to fork out for specialised equipment higher heating bills and replacing worn-out clothes that non-disabled people don’t have to afford. These extra costs undermine disabled people’s financial security, make it hard to save or build financial resilience. Disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people.

Some businesses are already recognising that disabled people are consumers who are under-provided for in the market, and have developed tailored products that have the potential to drive down costs. We hope that many others will follow suit, and would like to see the Government intervening to encourage businesses to innovate.

Improving opportunity for disabled people is about social justice – and we are delighted that the Prime Minister recognises the important role government can play here. It’s also about creating a country equipped for 21st century challenges. Scope economic research has found that increasing disability employment will add billions to GDP by 2030. The Government has an opportunity to improve the lives of disabled people, make her social justice agenda a reality and boost the UK economy at the same time. We hope she takes it.

Anna Bird is Director of Policy and Research at Scope



The gender pay gap – trimming branches or tackling at root?

Theresa May stood outside Downing Street in July and listed a series of “burning injustice(s)” she pledged her Government would fight. The listed included the fact that “if you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.” 

Less than six weeks later the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ report into the gender wage gap has underlined the challenge our new Prime Minister faces.  On average women in paid work receive about 18% less per hour than men.

It shows the key reason is more women than men work part-time or flexibly – because they are disproportionately responsible for unpaid caring and need to combine their responsibilities at work and home.  This needs to be addressed.  But I’ll get to that.

These part-time options are less well paid with fewer opportunities for career progression than full-time work.  Only 8.7% of quality job vacancies (those that pay over £20,000 full time equivalent or more) are advertised as being open to some kind of flexibility – compared with 20.2% among lower paid jobs. 

So women often find themselves trapped in low paid work where they are unable to progress.  They stay because they are afraid that they won’t find working arrangements that suit their childcare pattern elsewhere.  These fears aren’t unfounded - quality part-time and flexible jobs are few and far between.  So the gender pay gap persists.

Often the twin challenge of finding affordable, available childcare (which couples tend to assume should be deducted from women’s salaries) and reasonably well-paid, part-time and flexible employment is insurmountable – and women leave employment.  Clearly when they return they will have missed out on any interim wage growth and opportunities to upskill – so the gender pay gap persists.

Childcare can be a deciding factor in terms of women continuing in employment after children are born.  But addressing this is only part of the picture.  Key is ensuring more quality part-time and flexible jobs – jobs with career and wage progression – in the UK labour market.  As well as reporting on pay we’d like to see employers reporting on the steps they have taken to embed flexible working in their organisations, including whether or not they have taken a ‘flexible by default’ approach to recruitment.  This would open up choice for women - and men - helping tackle that persistent gender pay gap. 

But what about women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring?  While women’s choices are more limited the gender pay gap will surely remain.  The barriers to using shared parental leave – encouraging fathers to share care early on - must be tackled to make it a realistic option for new parents.  We disagree it should be extended to other groups like grandparents – before it starts working for fathers. 

If Theresa May is serious about achieving parental choice around shared care and reducing the gender pay gap, she might consider bringing in three months non-transferable paid leave for fathers.  Ideally this would be supported by the introduction of a free childcare hours allowance for children aged under two – to help bridge the gap between the end of maternity and parental leave in the first year of life and children starting school.  These kinds of game-changing policies would get to the root of the gender pay gap - helping eliminate it for good – and unlock the talent of women for the benefit of employers and the economy in post-Brexit Britain.

Sarah Jackson is CEO of Working Families - the UK’s leading work-life balance charity.  October 3-7 is National Work Life Week – find more information here.


Is ‘stop and search’ effective?

It’s five years since London was struck by the worst rioting in a decade. The riots resulted in five deaths and over 200 injuries. In the aftermath of the riots, 1,292 rioters were handed custodial sentences totalling 1,800 years.

A number of inquiries were held to identify the underlying causes of the riot. Once possible cause cited was the use of stop and search powers, which have been disproportionately used against people from ethnic minority backgrounds. It was argued that this created distrust and ultimately anger in the police in ethnic minority communities.

After the riots, the then Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, ordered the police to reduce their use of stop and search powers. However, some proponents of stop and searches have argued that they were effective, and the recent reduction has led to an increase in crime.

A troubled history

Under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, police officers were allowed to search civilians when they were deemed to be behaving suspiciously. This law became known as the ‘Sus’ law; short for ‘suspicious’ person.

This law caused significant controversy in the 1980s when it was employed abundantly by the Metropolitan Police. In early April 1981, Operation Swamp - an attempt to cut street crime in Brixton - used the Sus law to stop more than 1,000 people in six days.

Soon after, rioting broke out in Brixton. The riots resulted in over 300 injuries but no deaths. In his official report into the riots, Lord Scarman identified Sus law as a causal factor of the rioting. In response, the Government repealed the Sus law in August of 1981.

However, in 1984 the Government introduced the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) which permitted police officers to search civilians without arrest where there was “reasonable” suspicion.  PACE is the law currently used by police officers in order to carry out the vast majority of searches of a person without arrest.

PACE provoked significant controversy following the 2011 riots when its disproportionate use against ethnic minority individuals was identified as one cause of the riots by a number of inquiries. Following the then Home Secretary’s, order for the police to significantly reduce their use of the powers, stop and searches fell from a peak of 1.2 million in 2010-11 to 539,000 in 2014-15.

Detecting crime

However, some such as the Metropolitan Police have been critical of the reduced usage of stop and search. They argue that the reduction in stop and searchers has coincided with a significant increase in crime, particularly knife crime.

Proponents of stop and search laws argue that it allows police officers to detect crime. They claim that police officers can frequently have reasonable suspicion that a person is committing a crime, but not enough evidence to arrest the suspect. In such circumstances, it can be impractical for police officers to seek a warrant to search a suspect.

The most useful evidence surrounding detection is the proportion of individuals arrested following a stop and search. Since the Macpherson Inquiry, which examined the practises of the Metropolitan Police following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, police officers have been compelled to keep a record of stop and searches and subsequent arrests.

The graph below shows the proportion of stop and searches, under PACE, which resulted in arrests. This arrest rate dropped from a high of 13% in 2003-04 to lows of 9% between 2009 and 2012. The arrest rate currently stands at 12%. The overall arrest rate suggests that stop and searches are not a particularly effective form of detecting crime.


Proportion of searches using PACE leading to arrest (2003-2014)

Source: Home Office (2016)

The arrest rate does, however, vary significantly depending on the reason that a person was searched. Twenty per cent of people who were searched because a police officer suspected that they held an offensive weapon were subsequently arrested. In contrast, only 9% of people who were searched on suspicion of possessing drugs were arrested.   

Deterring crime

A low arrest rate in itself does not necessarily mean that stop and search does not work. Proponents of stop and search also argue that its use can deter and prevent crime. They argue that the powers can effectively disrupt crime, particularly in relation to terrorism.

Estimating the number of crimes prevented by stop and search powers is inherently difficult. The most recent Home Office study into this used the British Crime Survey to estimate the number of crimes which were susceptible to disruption by searches. These offenses include burglary, vehicle thefts, bicycle theft, robbery and wounding. The study estimated that stop and searches reduced these crimes by 0.2%. It should be noted that the Home Office study did not include crimes under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, this research does suggest that stop and searches have only a very small effect in preventing crime.

Earlier this year, the Home Office released research under a Freedom of Information request into Operation Blunt 2. Operation Blunt 2, which began in the spring of 2008, was an attempt to reduce knife crime in London. It involved a significant increase in stop and searches in some London boroughs. The official evaluation looked at ten London boroughs which saw 300% increase in weapon searches by the police, up from 34,154 in the year before to 123,335 in the first year of the Operation.

It compared the crime rates in these boroughs to 16 other London boroughs, which saw a much smaller increase in weapon searches over the same period. The researchers examined nine different measures of crime including assaults involving a knife, robbery, and weapons and drug possession offences. Their analysis found that “no statistically significant crime-reducing effect from the large increase in weapon searches during the course of Operation Blunt 2. This suggests that the greater use of weapons searches was not effective at the borough level for reducing crime.”


Since 2011, there has been a significant reduction in the use of stop and search powers. A number of inquiries have suggest that stop and search created distrust in the police in ethnic minority communities. However, it is possible that this distrust might be an acceptable price if stop and searches were particularly effective at reducing crimes. The evidence does not suggest this is the case. The use of stop and search does not seem to detect crime nor deter it.

James Dobson is a researcher at Bright Blue

We must tackle racial disparities in poverty

Participation in the labour market generally has an enormous impact on the ability of individuals and families to move out of poverty with problems around both access to and progression within work helping to explain the strikingly different poverty rates across ethnic groups. The rates for those defined as persistently poor between 2009 and 2012 were 14.1% for individuals of Black African heritage, 13.7% for those of Pakistani heritage and 5.1% for those from White groups.  

Some of this, especially for relatively new arrivals, can be traced to language issues - speaking English as a first language reduces the likelihood of being in persistent poverty by a substantial 5 percentage points. Weak English language skills are associated with the types of social and occupational segregation behind some groups’ disproportionate presence in work that is both poorly paid and which offers few prospects for progression. Pakistani and Bangladeshi men, for instance, are far more likely to be earning below the living wage.

However as the Women and Equalities select committee noted in its recent report on Muslim women, inequality, discrimination and Islamophobia also have a stark impact on people’s poverty risk.  Muslim women are 71% more likely than White Christian women to be unemployed, more likely than women from other groups to be asked about their marital status or family aspirations in job interviews, and their participation in the workplace is greatly affected by the disproportionate number of hate crime attacks perpetrated against them.    

For those at the start of their occupational careers, the likelihood that they will be able to escape low income adulthood is slim, and focussed government policy attention in both early years, through the extension of free childcare, but also in the transition between adolescence and adulthood, in reform to post-16 education is of the utmost importance.  Young people who begin their working lives in low paid work find it difficult to move beyond this while those who experience early unemployment can be faced with longer term periods without work.  The unemployment gap is high between ethnic groups – in 2014 young minority ethnic people had an unemployment rate of 28.6% compared with 15.5% for young white people.

This should be a cause of major concern. Earlier this month the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report Counting the Cost of UK Poverty in which we outlined the cost to the public purse of people being in poverty across a range of indicators including health, education and criminal justice.  Poverty costs us all financially – £69 billion in spending on public services, with an additional 9 billion in benefits spending and lost tax revenue.  The spend on education at approximately £10 billion, is a combination of the Pupil Premium and other targeted local authority work, and directly addresses support for children from low income families.  Investment of this kind is showing results with BME school attainment on an upward trajectory, but unless more is done to smooth young people’s transitions into the world of work their poverty risk will remain high, with the broader cost of the harms caused by such inequalities difficult to express in financial terms.  

Strategies to support transitions for poorer young people should include the provision of good quality careers advice, together with access to good quality apprenticeships and more effective widening participation activity from universities to address the woefully low representation of poorer young people across the higher education sector.  These areas however require reform – high quality careers advice is patchy, and while the emerging Apprenticeships Levy may assist in incentivising employers to provide better quality apprenticeships, access for minority ethnic young people is low – 26% of those applying for apprenticeships are from minority ethnic backgrounds but only 9.5% are successful.   

The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has spoken of the clear inequalities that exist in the UK which can impact on life chances, employability and quality of life which suggests the possibility of renewed policy focus on early years, the criminal justice system and education among others.  These are all public policy areas in which those from poor and/or minority ethnic backgrounds experience ongoing difficulties and initiatives to address these will be welcome.

It is clear that the financial cost of poverty to society, in the form of lost earnings and increased spend on areas such as health and education, can be reduced with effective action to tackle its causes and the broader impact of particular inequalities, such as discrimination in recruitment processes exacerbates this.  These costs, while clearly tangible and measurable as we have shown, are also both moral and ethical and should contribute to our ‘collective shame’ – that within a prosperous society, the failure to support its most vulnerable members not only contributes to broader economic cost, but to social, material and psychological harm.

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard is policy and research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation