Why our Human Rights Act Matters...Human Rights & Advocacy – walking hand in hand
This blog is by Helen Moulinos, Chief executive of a national advocacy charity fighting to have people’s human rights upheld and voices heard since 1996, called POhWER.
Twitter: @helenmoulinos @POhWERadvocacy
Please note, this is a guest blog and views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of BIHR.
My mother always taught me to write and send thank you cards and letters of gratitude. In these challenging times where there is sensationalist rhetoric about the Human Rights Act and who it benefits I wanted to speak out as a CEO who runs an organisation that sees the positive impact Human Rights Act has had on our beneficiaries.
I lead an inspiring charity called POhWER. Without the Human Rights Act, POhWER and the modern advocacy profession would probably not exist. The Human Rights Act is at the epi-centre of a framework of rights and entitlements complemented by the Equality Act, Care Act, Mental Health Act, Mental Capacity Act.
Thanks to the Human Rights Act and advocates we are able to challenge public institutions that support us in our everyday lives.
I’m often asked what we do and to explain what advocacy is. We help people to live as equal people and have their human rights upheld in public institutions. I am so proud of what we at POhWER do – we stand up for people, we empower people and some might say we argue for a living.
Advocacy is one of the many ways in which people can be supported and empowered to uphold their rights and entitlements. An advocate can help a person to:
- speak up for themselves or give their views
- understand the process they are going through, their rights and what choices are available to them
- be part of an important decision which is being made about them
- prepare for and take part in meetings and tribunals
- raise queries or concerns
- access information in the format which is most suitable
- access services that can support them
Advocates can also provide information and signpost people to other helpful services.
Types of advocacy
In certain circumstances a person has the legal right to an advocate including under the Care Act, Mental Capacity Act and Mental Health Act.
The following are examples of Statutory Advocacy services:
- Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy (IMCA) – An IMCA is an advocate who has been specially trained to support people who are not able to make certain decisions for themselves (they lack the capacity) and do not have family or friends who are able to speak for them. IMCAs do not make decisions and they are independent of the people who do make the decisions.
- Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) / Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) – If a person is deprived of their liberty under the Mental Capacity Act, an IMCA will be appointed to protect their human rights and make sure the deprivation is lawful, reasonable and in their best interests. The IMCA supports the person and collects information about them including their beliefs, values, and previous behaviour in order to represent their wishes.
- Relevant Person's Paid Representative Service (RPPR) – Everyone who is deprived of their liberty under the Mental Capacity Act must have a representative. This could be a family member or a friend but if there is no one suitable it could be a Paid Representative also known as an RPPR. RPPRs are qualified advocates who have specialist knowledge of the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards legislation.
- Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) – An IMHA is an independent advocate who is trained in the Mental Health Act 1983 and supports people who are being treated under the Act to understand their rights and participate in decisions about their care and treatment. IMHAs can support people who are detained in hospital and people living in the community and receiving Supervised Community Treatment or are subject to Guardianship under the Act.
- Care Act Advocacy – The Care Act says that local councils must involve people in decisions about their care and support needs. If it would be difficult for someone to be involved without support the council must make sure they get the help they need. If the person doesn’t have someone who can help them they have the right to have an independent Care Act advocate.
- NHS Complaints Advocacy (Also called Independent Health Complaints Advocacy (IHCAS)) – NHS Complaints Advocates help people to use the complaints process to raise a complaint about NHS funded treatment or care.
- Children's and Young People's Advocacy including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – CAMHS advocacy support is provided within both private and NHS hospitals across the country. Advocates provide drop-in services for the young people to access advocacy on a regular basis. Advocates support individuals to have their voice heard or work with groups of young people to raise issues they have identified.
Non-statutory advocacy services help those who fall outside the eligibility criteria for statutory services. Some examples of how we can empower people, communities outside statutory services include:
- Community Advocacy – Community advocates can support people find it difficult to put their views across or feel they aren’t being listened to deal with an issue they are facing.
- Citizen Advocacy – Citizen Advocates are trained volunteers. They provide one-to-one support to help people tackle the issues they are facing. Citizen Advocates may provide support in person, by telephone or by email and help people to access information, speak up and get their voice heard.
- Peer Advocacy – Peer Advocates are volunteers with lived experience of using health and social care services. They share their experience and provide practical support and encouragement. Peer advocates are matched with someone who has similar needs and issues to support them to develop new skills and gain confidence.
- Group Advocacy – Group Advocacy brings people with similar needs and issues together to support each other. These groups give people the opportunity to work together, share their experiences and raise joint concerns. Sometimes the group has a facilitator who supports the running of the group and sometimes these groups are self-supporting.
- Self-Advocacy – Self-Advocacy is representing your own views and wishes and asking for what you need or want. It gives you the ability to make your voice heard and take part in important decisions which are being made about you including how and where you live.
The 400,000+ people who contacted POhWER last year were ordinary people like me and you, your Mum, your neighbour, your nephew, or child. The scale of this and the thought that millions have passed through our doors in 25 years should tell us that things are not fair or okay. We have seen a sharp rise in safeguarding cases, especially for people locked away in institutions who are vulnerable. It saddens me that advocacy needs to exist because people continue to be treated poorly.
I believe the protection of human rights to be on par with the great social challenges and opportunities of our time. It is a brave thing to dare to believe in a world where we are all equal people.
I’d like to leave you with some powerful feedback from one of our POhWER beneficiaries about what advocacy has done for them:
“I didn’t realise how much help I could get from an advocate. I was in a downward spiral without any hope and probably wouldn’t have survived. My advocate helped me find my voice. When I say something to Cathy she knows what I am saying and empowers me. She has given me the tools, information, and knowledge. I don’t feel vulnerable or open to being manipulated or pushed. I can now stand up for myself. “
It is reassuring to know that when people are at their lowest point and need a helping hand, advocates are there to help. The Human Rights Act has made it possible for us to deliver this important work.
You can watch more videos about how POWhER use human rights in everyday life here.
So in this year of review and debate for the Human Rights Act (HRA) - Thank you HRA for being there when we needed you the most. Thank you HRA for helping us through all those tough times in life. Thank you HRA for being such a fair friend no matter what happened, but most of all, thank you for being you.
Rights Removal Bill Update
In December 2021, the UK Government announced plans to "overhaul" the Human Rights Act. We asked for POhWER's thoughts on the reforms and they said:
"We believe the changes proposed in consultation are detrimental to our beneficiaries and would remove independent scrutiny of public services upholding human rights and eliminate the important role of independent advocacy. Our society remains unfair and unequal – the 400,000+ people who sought POhWER’s advocacy, information, and advice support to uphold their own human rights last year should serve as significant reminder that the Human Rights Act 1998 and other protection laws are not currently being effectively upheld by local and central government bodies. Independent scrutiny, challenge and freedom for people to empower themselves is a fundamental part of our society and democracy."
Get our newsletter
Get monthly updates on UK human rights law and our work, resources and events sent straight to your inbox.