Center for American Progress

Becoming Educated About Implementing Social and Economic Rights
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Becoming Educated About Implementing Social and Economic Rights

Governments that respect social and economic rights are not required to hand out willy-nilly free housing and medical care to everyone.

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Public officials are often under the impression that to affirm a human need as a social or economic “right” is to automatically take on significant financial burdens—something which at a time of economic distress may discourage even the most sympathetic from adopting a rights framework. But it is commonly understood that to affirm a basic need as a right is (1) not to dictate the specific systems or policies by which that need/right is to be met and (2) to allow for the meeting of that need/right over a reasonable period of time, for example, the so-called “progressive realization.”

Governments that respect social and economic rights are not required to hand out willy-nilly free housing and medical care to everyone. Those who have the capacity to work to attain those goods may of course be expected to do so. But governments are required to structure access to basic human needs—food, clothing, housing, work, and health care—in ways that make them readily available to everyone, regardless of their economic capacity. Legislators and other public officials would be well served to educate themselves about implementing social and economic rights in order to reduce confusion about and resistance to adopting a rights framework.

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