Progressive Realisation and Non-regression
Given the resource and knowledge restraints faced by many countries, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognizes the fulfillment of economic and social rights can only be achieved over time, and calls for the progressive realization of ESCR. Progressive realization of ESCR does not mean that governments do not have obligations in terms of these rights until a certain level of economic development is reached but rather that there will be continual progress on the status of these rights and therefore states should take deliberate steps immediately and in the future towards the full realization of ESCR. Governments, no matter what level of resources they have at their disposal, must take immediate steps within their means towards the fulfillment of these rights. Several international documents, e.g. the Limburg Principles, and CESCR General Comment 3 have identified steps that can be taken immediately for any level of resource availability. For example, the elimination of discrimination and improvements in the legal and juridical systems do not necessarily pose a burdensome drain on resources. In many cases ESCR are violated not because resources are not available, but rather because they have been misallocated. At any level of resource availability, priority must been given to ensuring people's basic economic, social and cultural rights, and there must continual progress on people's enjoyment of ESCR.
Regressive steps in regard to ESCR are in contradiction to the progressive realization principle and constitute a violation of these rights-unless if they have been duly justified and weighted against the enjoyment of other ESCR. Regressive steps include all of those acts, of omission or of commission on the part of the state, which deprive people of rights that they used to enjoy. States should refrain from cutting subsidies for essential goods such as food, water and energy if they will cause undue hardship on people. Reducing spending on education, health care or other social services are a violation of ESCR unless the state can prove that they do not have the necessary resources.