18 April 2018

This morning I will be chairing an important panel session on human rights as part of the National Care Forum’s annual conference for social care leaders, which this year forms part of a 3 day international event “Aging in Common: An International Perspective”. With 2018 marking the 70th anniversary of universal human rights, what better time to be discussing the vital role human rights can and should be playing in the development and delivery of our care services?

At BIHR we focus on bringing human rights to life across the UK, taking the law beyond the court rooms and into the heart of our public services and people’s everyday experiences, including the provision of care. Sadly we are becoming over-familiar with the tragic human cost of “failures of care”. In such situation human rights are vital in providing people with the accountability and justice they deserve, and whilst court cases hit the headlines we also mustn’t forget the power of everyday advocacy and negotiation in supporting people to secure change. Take for example Lisa who supports people affected by dementia; following training from BIHR, she was able to work with her client to challenge her care pathway. Lisa recognised that the client’s own wishes to live in her own home were not being given appropriate weight, and using human rights helped make that happen:

"getting people to think about the range of human rights involved meant she was given a much more dignified, respectful pathway to be supported to live in her own home".

Perhaps less well understood is the role of human rights in delivering better services. At BIHR we work collaboratively with practitioners and services to enable them to better understand the law and use the rights and duties in the Human Rights Act as a tool for positive change. As some of the people we work with have told us:

“Using a human rights approach has revolutionised decision-making. Staff are thinking differently and making decisions differently.  It needs to be rights based, not just risk based.”

“Using human rights has improved the culture of our organisation. I started off sceptical about what difference it would make, but there has been a big turn around and the service is better as a result.”

"…to incorporate human rights into our practice. It has given the whole staff team a boost to be involved in something so innovative and has given us a new perspective. It has started an evolutionary process for us and our service users are telling us they feel the benefit.”

Empowering staff to constructively challenge and change, redefining or re-energising organisational culture and values, breaking down silos, and ultimately improving the lives of those receiving services; these are the big questions facing the care sector. Moving beyond simple legal compliance with the Human Rights Act, and translating human rights into practical tools for action through a much-needed approach that brings people and organisations together is what is needed. Indeed, as we reflect on 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set down, and 20 years of making it real here at home through the Human Rights Act, the words of Eleanor Roosevelt really resonate:

“Where do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works ... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world”

Good social care is vital in making sure universal human rights have meaning in people’s small places close to home. I’m looking forward to discussions with fellow panellists Anna Buchanan of Life Changes Trust, Debbie Ivanova of the Care Quality Commission and Dr Donald Macaskill of Scottish Care, and most importantly with delegates

Remember, if you want to join us in #celebrating70 years of universal human rights, it is very simple, sign our digital birthday card which will be going to parliament on 10 Dec: