Tackling inequality: guidance on making budget decisions

Informal guidance for policy makers on equality and human rights budgeting. The booklet challenges policy makers to systematically think through 6 key questions to identify ways in which budget decisions could be improved to advance human rights and address inequalities. Budget decisions include both those made about the money we spend and decisions about how revenue is raised.

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Question 4 How will your budget decisions contribute to the realisation of human rights?

Human rights standards mean ensuring that individuals:

  • have their minimum core rights upheld (minimum essential levels of service)
  • experience progressive realisation (things get better over time)
  • do not experience deliberately regressive measures (things don’t get worse when policies change)
  • benefit from maximised resource generation and maximum use of available public resources (the most is made of available resources in order to meet rights).

The way that individuals experience services and have their human rights fulfilled is likely to be different depending on their equality characteristics, their income level or where they live. By ensuring that budget decisions benefit those most in need by asking questions 1 to 3 in this booklet and by checking the impact of decisions on the human rights standards above, the social impact of economic policy is enhanced.

Human rights principles should also shape the process of budgeting. This means that budgeting is done with the active participation of rights holders (people affected by budget decisions). It also means that how a public body generates, allocates and spends its resources is transparent, accountable and non-discriminatory.

“Budgets are a key sign of a government’s values. So, if human rights are not in there, what’s being said is that they are not a value worth counting.”

Aoife Nolan
Professor of International Human Rights Law,
University of Nottingham


Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognises that everyone has the right to:

“…an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions…”

Guidance on the core content of the right to food states that food should be:

  • physically accessible and affordable to all
  • nutritious, safe to eat and culturally acceptable
  • sustainably produced

Whilst this right will be realised progressively, the government has a minimum core to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger. Even where resources are limited, the government must still introduce low-cost and targeted programmes to assist those most in need so that its limited resources are used efficiently and effectively. Exploring various aspects of the right to food in Scotland can help to identify where government and public organisations can focus resourced action.

In many ways, the human rights priority of progressive realisation complements the equalities priority of advancing equality. For example, ensuring the availability of good quality social housing should assist in progressively realising the right to housing. Ensuring that a reasonable proportion of these homes are fully accessible to disabled people advances equality.


Email: Gillian.Achurch@gov.scot

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