Celebrating Human Rights Day?

So it’s Human Rights Day tomorrow. How will the UK be marking it?  Most likely it will pass unnoticed or derided as another manifestation of political correctness. Yet, surely having laws that protect the basic rights of everyone in the UK, including people at their most vulnerable, is something to be proud of? So why aren’t we celebrating?

Sadly, it is because we have allowed the myth that the Human Rights Act is nothing more than a rogue’s charter used by lawyers to protect the undeserving, to take hold.

We read misleading and inaccurate stories involving cats and immigration or burglars and fried chicken. What we read less about are those vulnerable older people in the UK who depend on the act to protect them or to  improve the  fundamental services on which they rely .

Dignity and respect are at the core of human rights. Unfortunately, older people are sometimes treated in a way far removed from this. What is most shocking is that this can happen when they are at their most susceptible, needing care in hospital, or even in their own homes.

You need only glance at the shocking findings uncovered by  the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s  recent inquiry into homecare for older people. It revealed major and widespread breaches of human rights ranging from physical and financial abuse, lack of help eating and drinking to scant regard for the  privacy and dignity of those being care for.

Or the Staffordshire hospital where solicitors acting for 119 families, argued that some patients, the majority of whom were older people, received such appalling care it amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment breaching human rights law.   This included people left sitting in their own faeces and left without pain medication. Although the hospital did not accept there had been human rights breaches, it paid out just under £1.4m to individuals and their families.

Or take the case of the couple who were about to be separated after 65 years together as the husband needed residential care but his wife was told by the local authority that she did not qualify. They successfully argued that the local authority had breached their human rights and the authority reversed its decision.

However the HRA is much more than a legal cosh to bash public bodies with when they fail. It actually gives them a positive duty to protect human rights providing a great basis for improving their services they provide and as such should be celebrated not feared.

We may think it is not necessary to have laws to make us treat people with respect and dignity. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. But, sadly, whilst some older people continue to be treated so badly, they continue to need the protection the Human Rights Act provides.

So next time someone claims that we don’t need it, perhaps, they just need to remember it protects everyone – including their mum, their grand-dad or, yes, even them. 

Read our guest blog to mark Human Rights Day

Read our feature about older people in Colombia

Find out more about our international work


Author: Michelle Mitchell

Charity Director, Age UK

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