Creating a fairer Britain
Title of guidance:
Year published: written and published in 2009; updated in 2011
Length: 51 pages
Other formats: For further copies contact: 020 3033 1088 / Free information and advice line, including about publications: 0800 169 6565
Producer/ Publisher: Commissioned by Age UK and written by the British Institute of Human Rights; updated by Age UK.
Type of organisation: NGO / voluntary organisation | Campaigning / lobbying organisation
Generic (cross-sector) | Statutory guidance | External service guidance | Human Rights Act | European Convention on Human Rights | International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights | GB wide | Case studies
Audience: Service management | Front-line service personnel | Policy managers and directors | Legal directors
Topics: Human rights | restraint | blanket policies / individual assessment | mental capacity | involvement and participation | dignity | autonomy | manual handling | torture / inhuman or degrading treatment | privacy | residential care | home care | employment / workplace | independent living | age | vountary / third sector | private sector | abuse
This document provides practical information for professionals working with older people about using human rights in their work. The document sets out the key provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and UN human rights standards. It considers key human rights issues facing older people and relates these to particular rights and specific articles in the ECHR and the UN human rights instruments. It uses real life case studies to illustrate the relevance of human rights. It outlines a number of projects and organisations that seek to engage older people in human rights issues. The document illustrates the relevance of human rights well, directly linking practical examples with the various provisions of human rights law. It does not include specific guidance on using human rights in advocacy or on making complaints or legal challenges concerning the human rights of older people.
On the basis of a review of existing literature, the report notes that the extent to which human rights are integrated into both policy and practice in the UK is low. It notes a number of opportunities and challenges in ensuring human rights are reflected in policy in the UK:
The report notes that much of the existing literature indicates low levels of awareness of the HRA in practice, and, further, what awareness there is tends to focus on health and social care. The report considers the barriers that may discourage older people from using human rights. These include:
The document explains that the HRA brings most of the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. The HRA applies to everyone in the UK and places public authorities under a duty to respect the rights contained in the HRA. It notes the limitations of this that arise from the legal understanding of 'public authority'.The document provides a useful list of the UN human rights treaties that the UK has signed up to, noting that whilst not directly enforceable in UK courts the treaties have potential to influence issues affecting older people. The document notes that:
The document also looks at the non-binding UN Principles for Older Persons, describing them as an 'important and powerful statement'.
The report explains that some rights are absolute and some are rights that may be limited under certain circumstances. It elaborates the content of those rights it considers particularly relevant to older people. The list is not limited to rights contained in the HRA, but draws on all of the instruments listed above:
This third chapter takes as its starting point the issues faced by older people – which are then related to human rights provisions – rather than a potentially more esoteric approach of starting with rights and explaining why they are relevant. The chosen approach makes the relevance of the chapter immediately clear and makes it easier for the reader to identify which parts may be most relevant for their own work or situation.
Many of the topics are illustrated with real life case studies – some of which are derived from case law. The issues covered are:
In each topic the relevant right(s) are identified. (Readers can then refer to a table contained in Chapter 2 that lists the instruments each particular right is found in.) Examples are given of ways in which providers may be falling short of their obligations under the various human rights instruments.
This can include malnutrition and dehydration; physical, psychological or sexual abuse; ignoring calls for help; unchanged sheets; not feeding people properly; bed sores; poor hygiene; excessive restraint; and bullying, patronising and infantilising attitudes. Severe elder abuse may breach the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment. In less extreme cases, elder abuse may raise issues under the right to respect for private life, which includes a right to physical and psychological wellbeing. The right to life may be breached where abuse or neglect leads to the death of the person involved.
Older people may face abuse or neglect in their own home, from care workers, family members or friends. Private individuals cannot be held directly responsible for human rights abuses under the Human Rights Act. However, public authorities have a positive duty to protect certain rights under the Act, including the right to life, the right not to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way and the right to respect for private and family life. If a public authority is made aware of evidence that an older person is being abused, its failure to act may breach these rights.
This can include mixed-sex wards; privacy and dignity during personal care; privacy while using the toilet; sensitive medical advice being given when other patients can overhear; and care-home residents being fed while on the commode.
Lack of dignity / privacy raises issues under the right to respect for private life and, in more extreme cases, the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment.
The final chapter is an overview of projects and organisations that have sought to engage older people in human rights issues. Examples include:
Legislation on equality and discrimination can contribute to the realisation of rights for older people as well as addressing problems older people face in many areas of life.
We hope that you found the resource helpful and easy to use. Please let us know about other guidance or references that you think we should include. Send us your feedback.