Caring about carers rights

Today is Carer’s Rights Day. It brings to mind the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “where after all do universal rights begin…in small places close to home.” Human rights can help shine a light on the hidden world of unpaid carers, those family members, friends and neighbours who work tirelessly to care for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Why human rights matter to carers

Human rights are universal, they belong to everyone, this means people in need of care and those providing the care, Set down in laws like our Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), they remind us that there are legal obligations to treat people with dignity, respect and fairness. The HRA is there as a vital safety net to protect people from neglect and abuse, and to empower them to make choices about their lives.

The right to respect for private and family life under the HRA (“Article 8), for example, can be important for carers and those receiving care. This right protects physical and mental well-being and being able to develop relationships and participate in community life. It can help people challenge and negotiate the adequacy of care arrangements, involve people in decisions about care options, and help people to live fulfilling and active lives.

 

Sadly, many carers are not aware of their rights or do not feel confident advocating for them.  BIHR has been working with n-compass, an advocacy group in North West England, with a focus on the rights of carers. A consultation with local carers showed:

  • 45% of respondents felt that human rights are very important or important to their caring role.
  • Less than 30% felt confident that they knew what their rights were.
  • Only 15% felt confident in advocating for the rights of those they care for.

This revealed that many carers are missing out on vital support because they lack knowledge and confidence to know and secure their human rights. Essentially, lacking an important tool to help ensure their life, dignity and self-respect are protected.

A little bit of knowledge can go a long way

Knowing about human rights is an important first step in protecting them. Carers often come into contact with a range of professionals and bodies, from social services to health providers, all of whom have legal obligations under the HRA. It can be empowering for carers know they and the people they care for have rights and that public bodies have duties. This means dealing with public bodies is about ensuring the basics are in place rather than asking for a “hand-out” or a “favour”. As well as building confidence, this shift from charity to rights can also help find solutions to the challenges carers face. It can help ensure their rights and those of the people they care for are respected and protected.

Anna had multiple sclerosis and a 13-year-old son, David. David had Down’s syndrome and disruptive behaviour disorders. He had a long history of self-harming and violent attacks on his family. The family received some very limited respite care, but had not had any support in putting in place a behaviour management programme for David despite repeated requests. As a result, David had not been out of the family home for the whole of the summer break. Anna was extremely concerned that David was going to harm himself or a member of the family. The Down’s Syndrome Association wrote to the local authority asking whether the family’s right to respect for private and family life had been properly considered. They argued that the lack of support to manage David’s behaviour risked infringing both Anna’s and David’s right to participate in social and community life, as neither could access essential economic, social, cultural and recreational activities. Within two weeks David’s respite care was increased, he was referred to the local behaviour team for assessment and support and his parents were offered the opportunity to receive training on safe methods of restraint and behaviour management.

So let’s spread the word

Last month BIHR launched “Your Human Rights: A Pocket Guide for Carers”, developed in partnership with n:compass following our consultation with local carers. The Pocket Guide explains how human rights, particularly those in the Human Rights Act, are relevant to carers and those receiving their carBIHR Pocket Guide for Carerse.  Carers Rights Day is an opportunity to get this information out to carers to make sure that they feel confident about their rights and the rights of their loved ones.

So don’t delay! You can share the Pocket Guide – tweet it, link to it on your website, include it in your newsletters, email it to your networks, download and distribute it. Let us know what you think, your feedback makes our Guides more useful and helps us to show funders why it is important to keep supporting these publications. BIHR has some limited hardcopies contact us on programmes@bihr.org.uk for more information. Do also check out the Carer’s Rights Day webpages from Carer’s UK which has lots of useful information that can be promoted in similar ways.

Use it so we don’t lose it

Unfortunately political and media debates about the Human Rights Act are often quite negative, rarely telling the stories about how the HRA can make a difference to people in their everyday lives. When things go wrong the HRA can be a vital safety net, protecting us all in our most vulnerable moments. The HRA can also empower all people, including carers, to live fulfilling and dignified lives.

Human Rights can be a bit like good health. We don’t know how much we appreciate it until it’s gone. So now is the time to make sure we are using the law, raising awareness about it, and building more evidence for why human rights are important.

 

Human Rights: shining a light on violence against women

The 25th November marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the start of 16 Days of Activism on gender violence which leads up to global Human Rights Day on 10 December. The link between the two days is important; reminding us that violence against women and girls is an abuse of human rights.

What do we mean by VAWG?

In 1993 the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defined violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

VAWG as a human rights issue

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains one of the most widespread human rights violations worldwide. The international system recognises that VAWG threatens the fundamental rights of women and girls including the rights to life, not to be treated in cruel, inhuman or degrading ways, to liberty and security of person, equal protection under the law, to equality in the family and to physical and mental health.

“Violence against women continues to persist as one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world. It is a threat to all women, and an obstacle to all our efforts for development, peace, and gender equality in all societies. Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable. Let us take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves.” Ban Ki moon, United Nations Secretary General, who launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign in 2008.

VAWG in UK

VAWG is not restricted by country borders, cultures, ages or social status. The UK is not exempt from this devastating abuse of human rights, the consequences of which exact a heavy toll on its victims and survivors, their families and society as a whole. For example, research suggests that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence during their lifetime and between 6 – 10% of women experience domestic violence in any given year, with domestic violence accounting for 16% of homelessness acceptances. At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Nearly three quarters of children on the ‘at risk’ register live in households where domestic violence occurs. There have been no convictions for female genital mutilation (FGM) since it was outlawed in 1985 in the UK, yet it is estimated that 23,000 girls in England and Wales under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM. Approximately 85% of forced marriage cases dealt with by the Government Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) involve women and girls; the FMU deals with around 300 cases per annum. Research also suggests that each year 55,117 women aged 16-59 are raped, and 1 in 3 victims are subject to repeat victimisation. (All figures sourced from AVA Project)

Using human rights to take action

Under international law such as the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women the UK has concrete and clear obligations to address VAWG.  These obligations create important tools for lobbying and campaigning work. They are a measure which can be used to hold the UK to account.

The UK’s women’s sector is increasingly active is using the international framework to address VAWG issues. The UK is about to be scrutinised by the international committee that monitors compliance with CEDAW. There has been much work in the sector to capitalise on the opportunity to use this international human rights mechanism to raise violence against women issues, including the shadow reporting and lobbying work undertaken by the UK CEDAW working group.

Sadly the obligations in CEDAW and similar international agreements aren’t part of UK law, which means individual women cannot rely on them when seeking protection inside and outside the courts. However, we do have the Human Rights Act and this contains a range of domestically enforceable rights which are relevant to VAWG. Our rights under the HRA include the right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way; the right to respect for private and family life (including the right to physical and psychological integrity); the right to life; the right to be free from slavery and forced labour and the right to non-discrimination.

The HRA says that public authorities like social services, the police, and health professionals should not take action which violates our rights. Importantly, it also places specific positive obligations on public bodies to take proactive steps to prevent and address rights violations. For example, the Courts have said there are duties to investigate credible allegations of a breach the right to life, the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment, and the prohibition on slavery and forced labour. Decisions not to prosecute perpetrators of crime can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment where such decisions impact on a person’s sense of vulnerability. Similarly failure to conduct a proper investigation may amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

At BIHR we have seen both public officials and advocacy groups use the HRA to help secure access to services for survivors of violence, without having to go to court. For example, when a woman and her children were denied housing, a social worker argued that the local authority had overriding positive obligations to protect the family’s rights to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, and successfully secured safe accommodation. In another example a women’s group used the HRA to help a woman challenge a decision to remove her children because she was in temporary accommodation after escaping an abusive father. The local authority subsequently found the family stable accommodation.

Speaking up for our rights

Examples like these show how using the HRA in advocacy can secure important and sometimes life changing outcomes. These real life, but so often untold, stories remind us why the Human Rights Act is important for all of us, how it is a vital safety net that can protect us at moments of vulnerability.

As the 16 days of activism kicks off, let’s use the opportunity to remind ourselves and those in power that violence against women is a human rights issue and just as we speak out against abuse we will also speak up for the Human Rights Act and the laws that protect us. Now is the time to Act.

To keep your Human Rights, Act.

A rundown of the LSE Debate: Should the Human Rights Act be replaced with a new Bill of Rights?

Last night saw LSE host an event on one of the big domestic human rights questions – the Human Rights Act versus a new Bill of Rights. With a panel featuring Professor Conor Gearty, Professor Francesca Klug and Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, it was always going to be an interesting one.

From left to right: Professor Paul Kelly (Chair), Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Professor Francesca Klug, Professor Conor Gearty

Dr Duschinsky, a Senior Consultant on Constitutional Affairs at the Policy Exchange and former member of the UK Commission on a Bill of Rights, kicked things off. He began by observing that much of the debate around human rights involves different groups of people shouting at each other, which isn’t very helpful for anyone. He went on to say that any discussion surrounding whether a Bill of Rights should replace the Human Rights Act is pointless without first thinking about what such a Bill would contain and how it would work.The main thrust of

Dr Duschinsky’s argument was what he sees as the incompatibility between Britain’s parliamentary democracy where parliament is supreme and having judicial oversight of the decisions made by parliament.

“When an international court is given jurisdiction over national affairs is democracy undermined?” Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky.

Referring to current debates on prisoner voting, he said the system is flawed because there seems to be no accepted way to overturn decisions by the European Court of Human Rights even in the most “extreme” circumstances. He said that whilst he supports the rule of law, he thought this may become the ‘rule of lawyers’, which would actually undermine democracy.

Dr Duschinsky said he was most interested in the relationship between an international court and nation states. He believes there should be a separation of powers but also checks and balances as a 47 nation court is completely unique and accountability problems have not been thought through. He highlighted the idea of an “override”, enabling parliaments to disregard the European Court’s rulings, as a last resort which would make an international system of human rights protection much more palatable.

Dr Duschinsky said he would have much more respect for the Human Rights Act if it was detached from Convention and if Parliament could ignore a “declaration of incompatibility”. He believes that Parliament cannot currently exercise the powers it has under the Human Rights Act.

Francesca Klug, Director of the Human Rights Futures Project at LSE, gave a passionate defence of the Human Rights Act. She explained that a new Bill of Rights is not likely to change our relationship with the European Court.

“If we were to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, the UK would still be subject to the European Court of Human Rights’ judgements unless we want to be the only country inside Europe that decides not to.” Francesca Klug

Professor Francesca Klug defends the Human Rights Act

She spoke about how the Human Rights Act is a higher law which is expressed in broad, ethical terms and the UK courts have the power to interpret these expansive values and provide appropriate remedies.

Countering claims that the Act restricts the actions of Government, she argued that it provides the very subsidiary that this Government says it wants; that is the ability of national courts to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights and less intervention by the European Court in national law. She said this would be reversed if the Act was repealed. She also flagged that in 2011 there were only 8 findings of unlawful action by the UK, which is lower than any other similar State.

Professor Klug unpicked some of the other main reasons offered for enacting a new Bill of Rights. First she disagreed that a new Bill of Rights would return power to Parliament. She said parliamentary sovereignty is a misnomer in our system, it really means government sovereignty, which is exactly why the Human Rights Act is needed – to prevent abuses by the State. A second argument for a new Bill of Rights is to free up UK courts from following the European Court However, she argued that the Human Rights Act does not currently restrict UK judges to case law of the European Court; there are a number of cases in which our courts have not followed judgments of the European Court. Finally, there is the argument that a new Bill of Rights offers tot chance to make the rights “British”. Prof Klug questioned what replacing the Act with something labelled British really means? Whilst the government hasn’t explained this, her inkling is that it means some groups would be excluded from protection under this new Bill of Rights. Such a move goes against the grain of Bills of Rights across the world.

Professor Klug concluded by saying that it seems all the reasons given for a Bill of Rights are actually reasons opposing human rights, resulting in a tug of war between the Government and proponents of the Human Rights Act.

Professor Conor Gearty, Professor of Law at LSE, then took to the floor and began by reminding us of the importance of human rights.

“One of the greatest things about human rights is that it has cemented the idea of the universal human” Professor Conor Gearty

Professor Conor Gearty addresses the audience

Addressing points made by both the previous speakers, Professor Gearty noted that removing the European Convention or Court or the Human Rights Act won’t stop “juristocracy” (activist judges), it will only invite it. He argued that the Human Rights Act does in fact preserve parliamentary sovereignty and flagged the examples of UK cases which show this.

Professor Gearty was critical of Government inconsistency on human rights in domestic and foreign policy. He said that whilst UK Government officials travel the world promoting human rights, they are simultaneously trying to strip them away at home. (This chimes a chord with what BIHR has been saying on a number of issues – check back in for future blog posts!)

“In politics if you don’t have a coherent, drilled down argument then it’s just noise.” Professor Conor Gearty

He concluded by saying he believes a new Bill of Rights would be a dangerous thing. It would be a spurious, empty document serving only to disguise the transfer of resources from the very poor to the very rich.

Professor Klug’s closing statement seems to be a good point to end the review of a thoroughly interesting debate:
“Left alone nation states carry out the most horrific violence towards their own citizens; NGOs and ordinary people had to lobby and fight so hard for countries to sign up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Michael and the Government are starting to unpick something that has only been in existence for sixty years. This is really easy to do but I think we would really regret it.”

Shhhh…people are saying they support the Human Rights Act

One human rights story doesn’t seem to have featured in this week’s headlines and sound-bites. One which goes to the heart of our country’s values and the future of our legal protections. Interestingly it’s a positive story, and more than that one that involves the Human Rights Act. So what is the good news I hear you ask?!

So the good news…

There is a clear message of support for keeping the Human Rights Act coming out of the public consultations held by the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights. The responses to the consultation which closed on 30 September have just been made public and join those from the 2011 consultation published earlier this year.

Sadly the Commission has decided not to release its analysis of the consultation responses. However, BIHR has been doing a bit of totting up and it looks like the figures supporting the Human Right Act are around the 80-90% mark (with the caveat that we’re not statisticians!) Having read (literally) all the public responses to the 2011 consultation BIHR’s analysis suggests that around 80% of responses said there is no need for a UK Bill of Rights (mainly because the Human Rights Act functions like one) or that if there is to be any new law this should sit alongside and build on the Act.

What are people saying?

Piles of people’s postcard to the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights asking to keep the Human Rights Act safe

The message from the 2011 responses seems to have been repeated in the 2012 consultation feedback. Aiming to help people get to grips with the debates and engage with the Commission’s consultation we launched a postcard action under our #Act campaign, summed up in our slogan “To keep your Human Rights, Act”. The response was great and we were inundated with postcards from people across the country telling the Commission that the Human Rights Act is a vital safety net that protects us all, and especially at times of vulnerability. They told the Commission that the Human Rights Act is about who we are and our values.

Many people also added their own personal messages about why the Human Rights Act is important. Social workers revealed how the Act helps them do their job better. People whose parents fought in the Second World War to secure our rights expressed their concerns about replacing the Human Rights Act with something that takes our protections backwards. Parents with disabled children shared how the Human Rights Act is vital for their families. And there were even former sceptics who having found out more about the Human Rights Act realised its value.

There were just over 2000 responses to the 2012 consultation and together with a similar postcard campaign run by our friends in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium it looks like we made up around 85-90% of the submissions! The 2011 and 2012 consultations together send the Commission a clear message of support for the Human Rights Act to the Commission.

Why does it matter?

The Commission is due to report back to Government at the end of this year. The Human Rights Act has been one of the red lines between two parties in Government. The Commission itself was created to bridge the gap between the Conservative party position to scrap the Human Rights Act and the Lib Dems promise to protect it.

What the responses to the Commission show is that there is public support for the Human Rights Act, and it will be interesting to see how this is reflected in the report. The people, it would seem, are saying keep our Human Rights Act. As the Commission reaches the end of its task, it is clear that the journey of securing our human rights protections and stopping them from being taken backwards is only just beginning.

To find out more and get in on the #Act campaign visit www.bihr-act.org.uk