This years’ Carers Week focuses on valuing carers, respecting and recognising them as individuals.

 

At the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) stand fully behind Carer’s Week. Through our work with people we see the vital role carers play in our society. We also know that too often carers can be made invisible, their contributions and wishes ignored.

Human rights supporting carers

Human rights gives power back to carers, moving discussions from their needs to their rights, which carry with them legal duties to be respected, protected and fulfilled. Human rights belong to both carers and those they care for; importantly, our law - the Human Rights Act - has a framework we can all use for balancing these rights, helping make sure no one is left behind.

Take the example of Susan, who cares for her parents Barbara and Jerry who are in their late 70s and live in their own home:

When Lemar, a Care Support Worker, visited it was clear Susan and her parents had very different views about what was needed. Susan wanted both her parents to stay in their home. Jerry however wanted to move into a care home as his health was deteriorating. This disagreement was causing stress and conflict. 

Lemar was able to diffuse this potentially difficult situation by using human rights to talk to Barbara and Jerry, and to Susan separately. As he’d attended BIHR training, Lemar was able to explain that Barbara and Jerry’s rights to autonomy (protected by Article 8 in the Human Rights Act) mean their views should be heard and respected. Explaining this to Susan helped her relook at the situation and accept her father’s rights. Importantly, by talking to Susan about her human rights too they were able to uncover that she was struggling to cope as the primary carer and needed support.

Using human rights in this way, to bring people together and help unpick problems, enabled the family to discuss the issue and come up with a plan to trial having paid carers at home. Lemar referred Barbara and Jerry, and Susan for the relevant assessments to get the support they needed.

 

Information to empower carers

Susan's story is explained in our recent advocacy resource which provides practical tips and tools for using human rights. It is the companion guide to 'Mental Health, Mental Capacity: My human rights', a whistle-stop tour of everything you need to know about human rights and their relevance in your life. These resources responded to the needs identified by people and advocacy groups, including carers, taking part in our project Care and Support: A human rights approach to advocacy, which is due to conclude this summer.

We also have a resource specifically for carers – our Pocket Guide. We are currently seeking funding to reengage with carers and develop a new updated Guide, but lots of the information remains useful:

“The case studies were illuminating to say the least! They will give other carers the tools to fight their corner in a crisis and that’s invaluable!” (Carer)

 

Prevention and justice

Carers UK note that at least 6,000 people start becoming carers each day. At this crucial transition point, human rights can provide an important tool for carers, redressing the power imbalance when they are interacting with public services to try and get the right support.

The complexity of officials systems – negotiating various departments, laws, policies, decision-makers – can be simplified with a human rights approach. This is because the Human Rights Act places a legal duty on officials to comply with people’s human rights, whether that is about a specific decision or an entire policy.

Based on well-known principles like dignity, respect and fairness, human rights give meaning to the these values with the added back-up of being set down in law, and can make  a positive difference to the daily lives of carers, helping prevent poor treatment. As one carer told us:

“If I had known to quote more of these human rights I may have changed people’s minds”

When things go wrong, human rights also provide carers with a language to explain their situation and advocate with services for better decisions and outcomes. Our work shows this isn’t about confrontation, but rather takes the heat out of difficult decisions, referring to rights and duties rather than the moral compass of people involved. In this way using human rights are hugely practical:

“As an advocate the information in the Guide is really useful to support carers with issues they may have which gives them examples of how human rights may be breached.” (Advocate from a local service)

 

Spread the word!

The power of human rights remains underused by carers, but it really can transform carers lives: 

“...there are issues around equality and rights which at first carers don’t think relate to them but this guide helps to show them that they do! We have found the booklet to be very popular amongst unpaid carers and had to get more copies to distribute!” (Local Carers Forum)

 

You can help spread the word, share our resources and join our social media conversations on twitter @BIHRhumanrights using #AlrightWithHumanRights