Activism

UK’s civil liberties rating downgraded thanks to government crackdowns on protests, elections and strikes

The UK was one of just five European countries to be ranked as less open than before

Police at a Kill the Bill protest in London, April 2021. Image: Extinction Rebellion/Vincenzo Lullo

The UK’s civil liberties rating has been downgraded from “narrowed” to “obstructed” thanks to the government’s new crackdowns on protests, voting, and strikes.

Along with Russia, Cyprus, Greece and Tajikistan, the UK was one of five European countries to be ranked as less open than before in a report by international organisation Civicus.

Citing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act and the Public Order bill as two pieces of law which “seriously undermine the right to protest” the report marked the UK as a “country of concern”.

It was published the day after chancellor Jeremy Hunt boasted that the UK is “Europe’s biggest defender of democracy” in his budget speech.

 “For the last three years, civic space in the UK has been in decline. In September 2021, the country was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist to signal a rapid decline in civic freedoms,” the report’s authors said.

“Since then, the situation has continued to deteriorate, with the government introducing a range of restrictive laws, particularly on protest.”

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Along with the government’s anti-protest legislation, Civicus noted “a broader context of restrictions that are delegitimising civil society action”, including the anti-strike bill, new restrictions on voter ID, and the Rwanda deportation programme.

Existing police powers around protest have “already permitted the authorities to unduly restrict the right to protest by detaining protesters and preventing demonstrations”, it added, highlighting that at least 54 people were in prison at the end of 2022 for taking part in protests.

It was not just laws that gave cause for concern. Rhetoric from government ministers, including a quote from Rishi Sunak that “left-wing agitators are bulldozing British rights”, contributed to a culture where civil society has been “smeared and publicly vilified”.

“The UK is becoming increasingly authoritarian and is among concerning company in the CIVICUS Monitor ratings as restrictive laws and dangerous rhetoric are creating a hostile environment towards civil society in the UK,” said Stephanie Draper, CEO of international development network Bond, in a statement on the report.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

“Decision makers across all political parties should be alarmed and make it a priority to protect our rights and freedoms.” 

Passed amid widespread “Kill the Bill” protests, the PCSC Act allows police to place restrictions on protests for being too disruptive. The Policing Bill, currently passing between the Commons and the Lords, will go further and allow specific individuals to be banned from protesting.

May’s elections will also be the first where ballots cannot be cast without photo ID, despite warnings the new measures could stop a million from voting, and the fact only four people were convicted of voter impersonation fraud in the decade to 2021.

Support our vendors this winter and beyond

If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Street Soccer Scotland founder David Duke: 'You don't get anything in life without sacrifice'
David Duke, Street Soccer Scotland founder
Letter to my younger self

Street Soccer Scotland founder David Duke: 'You don't get anything in life without sacrifice'

9 LGBTQ+ trailblazers who defined and redefined modern Britain 
LGBTQ+ rights

9 LGBTQ+ trailblazers who defined and redefined modern Britain 

Beats Bus: How a Hull group is using hip-hop to fight poverty and protect young people from gangs
beats bus
Community activism

Beats Bus: How a Hull group is using hip-hop to fight poverty and protect young people from gangs

Women share harrowing accounts of painful NHS hysteroscopies: 'I begged the doctor to stop'
Health

Women share harrowing accounts of painful NHS hysteroscopies: 'I begged the doctor to stop'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know