At this year’s political party conferences the future of the Human Rights Act (HRA) was a hot topic, with the Conservative Party announcing a manifesto commitment to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party vowed to staunchly defend the status quo.
This debate, which is set to intensify between now and the next general election, tends to focus on a narrow range of human rights issues, namely how the HRA affects groups such as immigrants and prisoners. What usually gets lost in this debate is the crucial role that human rights can play in the everyday lives of those whose rights are at risk in very different contexts, such as vulnerable older people receiving health or social care.
Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission published the latest in a series of reports about the human rights of older people who receive care at home. It highlights that funding pressures which result in brief care visits have a devastating effect on both the older people relying on these services as well as the staff forced to choose between rushing visits, leaving early without finishing tasks or running late between clients. For local authorities to meet their human rights obligations and for older people to be assured of dignified and respectful care, the rates paid to care providers must cover the cost of care.
Another issue the report again highlights is the fact that people who receive home care from local authorities are protected by the HRA, but lose this protection if the care is contracted out to an agency. Age UK in partnership with Mind, Scope, the British Institute of Human Rights, Liberty and others, is calling for an amendment to the Care Bill, currently before Parliament, 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.
While at home in the UK the potential of human rights to improve the lives of older people is often underestimated, on the global stage the UN Human Rights Council has recognised the value they can bring. Last month it adopted a resolution that creates the new position of independent expert on the human rights of older people. A key responsibility of the independent expert will be to work with the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) which is currently discussing proposals for a new international legal instrument on older people’s rights. Following our successful conference ‘Working towards a Human Rights Convention for Older People’ back in July, Age UK in partnership with Age International, is now calling on the UK Government take a positive and active role in this process.
This blog is a contribution to Blog Action Day a global conversation on human rights.