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Social rights and civil society: ‘Giving Force’ without ‘Enforcement’

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This article considers the actual and potential role of the law in giving force to social rights entitlement. It examines the strategic approach of the Disability Rights Commission in Britain between 2000 and 2007; the engagement of the Greek Parliamentary Ombudsman with civil society to give practical effect to European equality law, especially in respect of the Roma community; and the work of the Health Service Ombudsman in England in promoting health equality for people with learning disabilities. It proposes that in each of these different examples the mobilisation of equality law, and indirectly of social rights entitlement, is dependent upon the activation of civil society and of the intermediate institutions of which it is comprised. It suggests that the need for mobilisation of this sort derives from the ‘complexity’ of social space that makes the polarisation of sovereign individual and sovereign state unrealistic. Insofar as the debate about law and social rights assumes a model of social reality based on polarisation of that sort, it is likely to exaggerate the reliance that can be placed upon individual law enforcement, even where social rights have a legislative basis and are to that extent potentially justiciable. The hypothesis of political pluralism privileges a different model and mandates a different approach to ‘law enforcement’ in the sphere of social rights entitlement.

Keywords: Civil society; Disability Rights Commission; Greek Parliamentary Ombudsman; Health Service Ombudsman; Social rights

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Honorary Research Fellow, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool, UK

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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