Austerity measures have raised multiple human rights concerns. However, limited attention has been paid to their conformity with civil and political rights, particularly the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. In the United Kingdom, a punitive approach has characterized many welfare reforms, particularly a system of conditionality for claimants followed by sanctions in case of non-compliance. This has resulted in adverse consequences, including anxiety, financial hardship, health problems and suicides. The jurisprudence of regional and national courts provides useful guidance on the circumstances under which such measures breach the prohibition of ill-treatment. The article argues that minimum core obligations identified by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and notions of basic needs and dignity help identify the limits of policy-induced suffering under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A clearer understanding of applicable standards has important implications for individuals seeking legal recourse against austerity measures and for policy makers.
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