Winterbourne View, Operation Jasmine, the EHRC’s Close to Home report and the harrowing story of Gloria Foster are all recent examples, and there are many more, of how the human rights of those receiving care have been breached. One would assume that protecting someone from abuse, neglect or undignified treatment would be the first priority of those providing care, however, in some cases it is clear that it is not so.
In this context it is vital that the law acts to protect who are vulnerable to human rights abuses. The Human Rights Act 1998 states that ‘It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.’ Simply put, this means that public bodies have a duty to respect and protect people’s human rights to fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy. Where they fail in this regard they can be challenged in the courts.
Age UK has long been concerned that not all older people receiving care benefit from this vital source of protection. Certain groups of older people including those who receive home care services provided by private and third sector organisations under a contract to the local authority and those who arrange and pay for their own care are currently not directly protected under the Human Rights Act.
That is why Age UK in partnership with Mind, Scope, the British Institute of Human Rights, Liberty and others, in calling for an amendment to the Care Bill that would provide equal protection to all users of regulated social care services regardless of where that care is provided and who pays for it.
For those at the sharp end of indifference and abuse, what matters is that all regulated care service providers have legal duties to protect human rights. Without this individuals have little prospect of direct legal remedies, which are important for victims of abuse, and to drive broader cultural change within services to respect and safeguard the human rights of all service users.
We fully accept that bringing all regulated social care services within the scope of the Human Rights will not alone solve the problems of undignified care and human rights abuses in care settings; improved regulation, additional safeguarding legislation and better training must also play their parts too. However the evidence continues to mount that without clarifying the direct application of the Act and the proactive approach to promoting and protecting rights that it demands, abuse, neglect and undignified treatment are commonplace occurrences. The Human Rights Act can provide an essential safety net for social care recipients who find themselves in highly vulnerable situations; the Government must not deny them this protection.