A UN Convention on the Rights of Older People: from deliberation to action

Ageism is a world-wide problem and negative attitudes towards older people are pervasive in many cultures and societies, including our own. Older people are all too often stereotyped as ‘has-beens’ with no aspirations or future and even as threats to the opportunities of younger people.  The direct effect of this ageism is that older people are at major risk of experiencing discriminatory treatment globally and across a wide range of situations; from undignified and inadequate care in the household, hospitals and residential homes, to unequal treatment in employment and inadequate responses in emergency and humanitarian situations.

The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948 explicitly prohibits discrimination on a wide range of grounds; ‘race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’ (UDHR, Art 2). Arguably the most glaring omission from this list is ‘age’, the result of which is that very little attention is given to the human rights of older people by international human rights mechanisms. Continue reading “A UN Convention on the Rights of Older People: from deliberation to action”

Older People’s Human Rights on the agenda at national and global level

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. Continue reading “Older People’s Human Rights on the agenda at national and global level”

Care Bill: How the Human Rights Act can provide a safety net

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.

440x210_care_homeIn 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. Continue reading “Care Bill: How the Human Rights Act can provide a safety net”

Equality Law in the Spotlight

The Equality Act 2010 was a long time in the making, beginning life in the form of the Discrimination Law Review which began its work back in 2005. Its aim was to simplify and harmonise the complicated web of legislation that had emerged over the previous thirty or so years in response to a growing recognition of the corrosive effects that discrimination in its various guises has on our society.  When the Act finally made it onto the statute book in April 2010 it was hailed as a major landmark; providing for the first time comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that provides a solid platform from which to tackle discrimination based on disability, gender and gender identity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and crucially from Age UK’s perspective, age.  However there was also a widespread recognition on the part of all those who champion greater equality that this was where the real work had to begin. For the law to be effective a major effort was now needed to make sure that everyone; employers and employees, businesses and customers, service providers and clients, all understood how the law worked and how greater equality would benefit them and their organisations.

Against this backdrop the Government’s decision to include the Equality Act in its Red Tape Challenge initiative, which aims to identify regulations that hurt businesses, hinder economic recovery and should therefore be scrapped, has been greeted with a certain degree of apprehension. Describing primary legislation that was designed specifically to harmonise and simplify equality law in the language of bureaucracy and burden is hugely detrimental to efforts Age UK is making to help businesses recognise the benefits of tackling age discrimination which stands in the way of them accessing the ‘golden market’. It is also questionable whether now is the best time for this review, before all the provisions of the Act, including vital measures to outlaw harmful age discrimination in the provision of goods and services, have even been implemented. Continue reading “Equality Law in the Spotlight”

A tale of two sectors

On 3 March the Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced that it will implement the ban on harmful age discrimination in the provision of goods and services that is set out in the Equality Act 2010. The ban, which is something Age UK and its predecessor charities campaigned long and hard for, will come into effect in 2012. This is very welcome news and represents a major stride forward in the fight against age discrimination.

Alongside this announcement the GEO has also published a consultation setting out its proposals for exemptions to the legislation. These are needed to ensure that where age is used as a beneficial criterion, for example to provide older people with concessionary entrance fees to museums, that this can continue.  The proposals on exemptions are very much a tale of two sectors.
Continue reading “A tale of two sectors”

Human rights in small places, close to home

As Eleanor Roosevelt so famously remarked “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. … Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

Because home care services are operating in such ‘small places’, out of sight and often out of mind, evidence about how human rights are promoted and protected or otherwise by them can be hard to come by. Shockingly, a previous estimate from the UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People published in 2007 by NatCen and King’s College London, found that 350,000 older people are abused in their own homes (although this figure does not focus solely on abuse carried out by paid carers). Home care services provided by the state are regulated by the Care Quality Commission but it can be difficult for a regulator to shine enough light into these ‘small places’ to illuminate them properly. Earlier this week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), issued a call for evidence directly to older people and their carers, which it hopes will build up a much clearer picture of how home care services are impacting on older people’s human rights.  Continue reading “Human rights in small places, close to home”