20 March 2018

This blog is co-authored with Sophie Radcliffe, Advocacy Manager, Alzheimer’s Society and Sanchita Hosali, Director, BIHR

Human rights – rights for humans, seems simple, but sometimes the concept can feel distant. Something far away, about another place, something legal and technical. But actually, with the right support universal human rights become a tool for securing the things that matter to us most. Enjoying life with our family and community, respecting our privacy, emboldening us to speak up and have a say. Human rights can be the language, the toolkit, the safety-net, that makes sure we have dignity in our most vulnerable moments.

For advocates, being able to understand and use human rights, helps change (often difficult!) conversations about what is “fair” or “the policy” into a more constructive discussion about the duties of public services and how to best respect and protect people’s rights. This is because our law in the UK, the Human Rights Act (HRA), makes 16 universal human rights enforceable here at home. The HRA takes these rights, traced back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and gives us ways to make them count for people in their everyday lives. Take Melina’s story …

Melina’s story …

Melina** is affected by dementia, and lives in a nursing home, but she was about to be moved 30 miles away because her family was no longer able to pay the top up fees required by the home. The thought of the move was distressing for Melina, but she had little involvement in the decision.

Stephen, Melina’s advocate spoke to the local Trust about her human rights. He explained how the Trust’s decision could risk Melina’s right to life and/or not to be harmed, because health care professionals had serious concerns about the negative impact on Melina’s physical and mental health, if she was moved (Articles 2 and 3, HRA). Stephen also discussed how the move would impact Melina’s right to private and family life as she had always lived in her hometown, and she would lose the vital visits she had from friends and family (Article 8, HRA). Finally, Stephen made sure the Trust knew that excluding Melina from having a say in decision making about her own life, simply because of her dementia diagnosis and possible capacity issues, was discriminatory (Article 14, HRA).

The Trust are now paying for the top up fee so Melina can stay in the place she calls home, huzzah!

Small places close to home

There’s a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the driving forces behind universal human rights following World War II, which talks about universal rights having meaning in small places close to home, places that are the world of the individual person. This perfectly captures the importance of providing rights-based advocacy with and for people affected by dementia. For Melina, and so many more people affected by dementia, an advocate can be their voice when there is no one else to help them speak up, and human rights is the language that makes sure their dignity is respected. That’s why we’re celebrating 70 years of universal human rights, and making them real here at home.

Take action, join in

If you believe in universal human rights, take a moment to sign our UDHR birthday card. We will be delivering this card to the United Nations and the UK parliament on Human Rights Day later this year, to tell those in power that universal human rights matter here at home: www.celebratehumanrights.uk

* Members of the Alzheimer’s Society Northern Ireland advocacy team recently attended BIHR training on using a human rights approach.
** All names and identifying information have been changed to protect people’s anonymity.