A blog from Older People’s Advocacy Alliance, 01 October 2015 by Kath Parson

Independent Advocacy supports the person regardless of the demands and concerns of others. It challenges the causes and effects of injustice, oppression and abuse and upholds human rights. (OPAAL National Forum 2008)

Older people are at risk of having their human rights denied particularly when they are dependent on care provision to support their health and wellbeing.  OPAAL recently shared a series of blog posts featuring BIHR casestudies on our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy blog (www.opaalcopa.org.uk).  OPAAL recognises the importance of the Human Rights Act for older people and this has a strong fit with our commitment to advocacy and thereby to empowerment and to ensuring that the voices of older people are heard – in short the language of human rights is the language of advocacy.

An Older Person’s Advocacy Project Casestudy

A referral was made to our advocacy service for Clarissa, an older lady with a visual impairment, there were some issues with her support package and with her home care which was being provided by the local authority.  When I visited Clarissa at home she told me that she has carers who come in to help her.  Her domiciliary care folder said that carers were supposed to stay with her for 30 minutes and amongst other things the carers were supposed to help Clarissa to wash and get dressed in the mornings.

I could see that Clarissa was wearing a dirty blouse and also the file showed that the carer had been in and out in ten minutes. As a way of finding out Clarissa’s views I just asked her how she was getting on with the carer. She said they were in and out really fast. Clarissa was unhappy with her current arrangements. I said to her that her carers were supposed to get her washed and into clean clothes, she said that this happened some of the time, but not all of the time. 

With Clarissa’s permission we had a mini-review with her social worker and the carers.  I pointed out that getting Clarissa dressed but not washed, and leaving without helping Clarissa to identify when items of clothing needed to be washed could be considered degrading treatment under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act.  The carer now has a detailed list of what they need to do; Clarissa is getting the support package that is outlined in her care plan and this is better meeting her needs and wishes.

McDonald v UK was an important case in establishing that a failure to consider a person’s dignity can be a breach of human rights.   The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a London borough’s withdrawal of night-time care from Ms McDonald breached her human rights for almost a year before proper processes were completed.

Advocates make reference to the Human Rights Act in their work as a common language, making their advocacy partner aware of their rights and encouraging public services to take a human rights perspective.  This is increasingly important where public sector cuts threaten to deny older people of their rights.   Action for Advocacy’s  Advocacy in a Cold Climate report also highlighted concerns that public sector cuts are leaving people increasingly vulnerable to falling standards in care provision. 

Often advocates take a gentle approach as identified in this casestudy, using the Human Rights Act as a way to add additional weight to their advocacy partners’ concerns and wishes, this gives public services and professionals the opportunity to rethink or correct their approach; this is a powerful shared language which, as Clarissa’s story shows, can yield strong advocacy outcomes.