28 May 2021

Read this blog as a PDF here.

Monday 31 May 2021 marks 10 years since the devastating scenes of abuse at Winterbourne View were exposed in the BBC’s Panorama documentary Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed. I'm choosing to mark this day on a personal level by putting up a poster and lighting a candle to support Rightful Lives’ vigil, and re-watching the Panorama exposé. Whilst it is distressing and painful to watch the scenes which were exposed at Winterbourne View, I choose to do this to remind myself of the huge abuses of people’s human rights which continue to happen to this day. Even one situation of abuse is one too many. These abuses must stop.

But the question remains, how can we stop abuses of rights when they occur at such a systemic level? It can feel like a hopeless task. However, my personal answer is that we must keep trying, in the small places close to home, in every space in which our lives are touched by the state – at school, in care homes, in hospitals, in Assessment and Treatment Units. We must open up conversations and join forces with communities and allies to raise our voices and push for change. We can’t do that alone; we must support each other. At BIHR, we support people and communities to understand their human rights and the duties on public bodies to respect and protect them. Human rights abuses need human rights solutions, as we said in our blog following the exposure of the abuse at Whorlton Hall. Let’s keep talking about human rights, learn from each other and push for human rights-based changes which can put a stop to abuse in all public services, including those spaces where we go for care and support.

Marking 10 years on from Winterbourne View

At BIHR, we marked the anniversary of the abuse at Winterbourne View coming to light by supporting the campaigns of #Right2Home and Rightful Lives.

#Right2Home led 5 days of action from Monday 24 May – Friday 28 May, ‘Ten Years After Winterbourne View’:

We supported Day 3 of the action, It’s About Human Rights, holding a range of free events to support people, advocates and public service staff to know more about people’s human rights in health and care settings, particularly Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) like Winterbourne View, and the duty on staff to respect and protect our rights. We did this through a series of free Lunch and Learns, followed by a Twitter Question Time.

Our Lunch and Learns

Every month, we hold free Lunch and Learns on a different human rights topic. Usually access to these is exclusive to those who’ve joined our Communities of Practice (it’s free and you can find out how to join here!). We hold three different sessions for the three different groups we work with:

  1. People accessing/trying to access public services and loved ones
  2. Staff working in public bodies, such as local authorities and health services
  3. Advocates and campaigners supporting people accessing public services

This month, we made our Lunch and Learns open to everyone to join as part of the Winterbourne View anniversary. We started the conversations off by giving people some information about our 16 different human rights and how they are protected in law by the Human Rights Act. We explained that under this law, public bodies and the staff working in them have a legal duty to respect and protect our human rights. We then looked at key rights for people in health and care settings, particularly inpatients at ATUs like Winterbourne View. We focused on our right to be free from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, what this right means, and how it relates to our right to private and family life.


Then, we invited everyone who attended to speak about their experiences and ask the questions which were important to them. Here are some of the issues people raised:

  • Individual experiences of pain and how to communicate these to staff.
  • Sensory harm in showering situations.
  • Safeguarding - how to raise a human rights situation to local bodies and how to challenge when the concerns are not escalated.
  • CCTV and whether this can ever be a proportionate tool for trying to stop or expose abuse.
  • Restraint and how to balance safety and capacity.
  • How to support people in ATU settings or self-advocates to know more about human rights and raise human rights issues.
  • The impact of Covid-related emergency laws on people rights in care settings.
  • Using a human rights framework to discuss a care decision.
  • How to create a culture change to prevent human rights breaches in ATUs and other settings.

We at BIHR believe our Lunch and Learns are a powerful space where people can develop their understanding and confidence in using human rights, share their experiences, ask questions, and think about applying that knowledge in their lives. As we like to say, knowledge is power! We are so pleased to have been able to dedicate our May Lunch and Learns to support #Right2Home’s action marking 10 years on from Winterbourne View.

Our Twitter Question Time

After our Lunch and Learns, we took to Twitter for a Question Time to answer questions on human rights and ATUs. This was to provide those who couldn’t make it to our Lunch and Learns with the opportunity to ask their questions and build their understanding of human rights, particularly in relation to ATUs. To see what we discussed, head to our thread here for some of our responses, and this thread for more! Take a look at the hashtag we used - #ATURights – to catch up on all the other questions, discussions and tweets that were shared that afternoon.

Why action like this matters

Our events at BIHR and the powerful campaigns by self-advocate-led networks like #Right2Home and Rightful Lives are important ways to remember the abuse people have experienced. This collective action encourages us to remember what happened, stay connected, and work together to raise awareness and challenge abuse like we saw at Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall. By forming communities and supporting each other, we can share experience and knowledge and build a powerful, positive force for change. At BIHR, we truly believe human rights provide a framework for making this change. That’s why we continue to support communities and individuals with human rights knowledge. I wanted to draw on the words of Sanchita, BIHR’s director, in her blog about Whortlon Hall, which explains what a human rights approach means and looks like:

“We must move away from simply thinking about good or poor practice and towards accountability for people’s legally protected human rights. Human rights are not about being nice. They are not even really about good practice because that implies an optional extra going above and beyond. Nor are human rights about meeting the latest policy driver or even prioritising commissioning or financial incentives. Human rights are the legal entitlements that we all have, no matter who we are or where we might be living or placed.

The Human Rights Act places a legal (not ethical or moral) duty to respect and protect these rights. We must name what we saw on TV last night as inhumane and degrading treatment. It is not simply wrong, it is unlawful. It is a red line which people must not fall below.  What a human rights framework gives us is a way to describe what has happened and the standards that need to be met to address it, and to prevent further abuse and systems that enable abuse.

Human rights is a language that focuses on the people at the heart of services, but which locates responsibility squarely with decision-makers who have the power to make the changes needed. The legal duty to respect and protect human rights is about the individual decisions of staff within the service and the system of public institutions that sits around them. Both need addressing; the service and staff, and the system that enables human rights abuses to take place. Too often we hear the system services operate within is broken and therefore bad things happen. A human rights lens does not accept this; it enables us to call for legal accountability for individual people, and across public services.”

Change needs to happen. Abuses of people’s human rights in public services must stop. They should never happen in the first place. Human rights can help us hold public bodies accountable for failing to respect and protect our rights, like they are legally obligated to do. We can help to make this happen by working together, opening up conversations and spaces to share experiences, build our knowledge and make our voices heard.

PS. - if you want to join BIHR’s very own community, you could join our Communities of Practicefind out how to do that here. Keep up to date with what we’re doing by signing up to our monthly eNews, and following us Facebook and Twitter.

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