International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to:

  • social security
  • work, rest and leisure
  • a standard of living adequate to ensure health and well-being
  • education
  • participation in cultural life.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights formally recognises that securing these rights requires progressive action over time. For example, protecting rights to education and health requires that people have access to schools and medical facilities, which many countries are still struggling to create. These rights are bound to be dependent to some degree on the resources available to any particular country, either on its own or in combination with international financial or technical assistance.

Many developing countries that have ratified this Covenant and see the value of its provisions for their citizens, have at the same time been faced with pressure to do things that are directly contradictory: to implement economic structural adjustment programmes. This has meant allowing market forces to determine state spending to a more significant extent, and that involves cutting down the spending on welfare programmes e.g. health, education and social support to the poor.

The Commonwealth has been a strong, vocal advocate for a newly designed approach to structural adjustment, one that protects poverty alleviation programmes and maintains those services essential for human development, because, without them, the slower development of human resources makes it less rather than more possible to repay debts.