Today we held a breakfast seminar on Using Human Rights in Public Services and Advocacy. The purpose of the event was to share the learning from our recent Independent Evaluation of Embedding a Human Rights Approach. In attendance were health and care professionals, non-governmental organisations, government bodies, trusts and foundations.

The event was held in Bishops Square, London. It’s safe to say that when you work in the third sector being able to offer guests incredible views of London and fresh pastries is not too common an occurrence and we’re grateful to Allen and Overy for kindly hosting and providing that sense of occasion.

What do the report findings tell us?

The morning began with our Director Sanchita Hosali offering an overview of the report findings, drawing on independent evaluation, by Sarah Cooke, of three national projects to support advocates and people using services, and service providers, in health and care to use human rights in their day to day work. Through these projects we’ve worked with over 2000 people directly, and reached another 8000+ through our co-developed practical resources on how to use human rights day to day. The evaluation report offers critical learning for how human rights approaches can be used to deliver positive social change at a range of levels, including:

  • Individual people feel more empowered and able to change their lives for the better (over 35 case study examples were collected during the project, many of which feature in the report, and all are available at our health, care and human rights hub, here).
  • Staff feel reinvigorated and more connected to values, backed up by a legal framework and simply lone voices or “trouble makers”
  • Better relationships between staff and service users, using the universal language of human rights that connects us all, rather than an “us” and “them” situation
  • More productive relationships between public services and local community groups to secure change, using human right as a facilitative rather than confrontational language
  • Changes to organisational culture, supporting staff, service users and the wider community, from the small everyday issues such as including human rights on team meetings, right up to changes to strategic visions for organisations.

Sanchita was followed by speakers from organisations we’ve worked alongside to embed a human rights approach over the last 3 years.

What does this look like in everyday life?

The first speaker, Lisa Clevely, a senior Dementia Practitioner from Bristol Dementia Wellbeing Service spoke of the difference the BIHR project made to practitioners’ knowledge and understanding of human rights in their day to day practice. Lisa shared stories about how her team are using human rights to make sure that couples living in care homes aren’t separated and to support care workers to respect people’s wellbeing when they may have altered reality due to their dementia rather than telling inconsistent stories, for example when a resident is asking for a long-deceased parents and different workers saying the parent will visit soon or that they have passed away.  Importantly she also shared how confidence around human rights has supported the service to whistle-blow when they encounter poor practice that people’s rights at risk.  “Practitioners are always asking for more BIHR Human Rights Training.”

Managing Director, Sarah Yiannoullou of the National Survivor Network then spoke about working alongside BIHR to empower people to use human rights to influence mental health policy. She shared how human rights has helped NSUN to articulate its own aims and calls for action more concretely, challenging pejorative language and using the universal idea of human rights. She also spoke about how NSUN has used human rights to support member’s campaigns, empowering survivors to directly take action and speak up, including calling for inclusion on the Review in the Mental Health Act.  “Human rights is the language we all have in common, it gives a universal starting point when working with other Survivor Networks.”

And finally, Freya Carson from St Martin of Tours Housing Association spoke about the impact of working with BIHR on their organisational ability to stand up for people’s rights. As a frontline support worker Freya shared how important it has been to know she has the backing of a legal framework to call for what is right for the people using her service. She gave examples of how using human rights at the time of hospital discharge has been really valuable in making sure people aren’t discharged too early when they are still in crisis and need hospital treatment. She also spoke about ensuring that the people St Martin’s support have better knowledge about their rights and are empowered to raise this with the service, even if it makes the job more complicated. Freya said, “I want to thank BIHR for reaffirming my values through the law.”

The presentations were followed by a discussion on current challenges and opportunities of embedding a human rights approach in public services and advocacy. The main discussion themes centred around the longevity of human rights projects and the need for recognition that changes in culture and practice take time, long term funding and a holistic empowerment approach. There is no dispute that their impact on people directly makes this a worthwhile priority.

The seminar closed with BIHR Human Rights Officers, Carlyn Miller and Leonard Lewis sharing the impact of current BIHR projects which respond to recommendations in the evaluation report. This includes:

  • our work with Mencap Liverpool on learning disability, autism and human rights to produce a series of short films on human rights and how to use them (funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Trust)
  • our recent summer schools for advocates and with Tower Hamlets Recovery College on Mental Health, Mental Capacity and Human Rights (funded by Allen and Overy), and
  • the development of our online Human Rights Tool an interactive website which guides people through understanding whether a situation about their mental health or capacity care raises human rights issues and how they can take action (funded by the Legal Education Foundation)

We’d like to thank our speakers who travelled from far and wide to be there and who spoke so highly about their work with BIHR; to everyone who came along and engaged so meaningfully in discussion and to our funders this far, without which, none of this work or the seminar itself would have been possible.

You can read the full report here.