Creating a fairer Britain
Title of guidance:
Year published: 2009
Length: 101 pages
Format: PDF (858Kb)
Other formats: other formats on request - phone: 0845 604 6610 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer/ Publisher: Equality and Human Rights Commission
Type of organisation: Human rights commission in the UK
All (cross-sector) | External Service Guidance | Human Rights Act | European Convention on Human Rights | GB wide| Case studies
Audience: Senior Executives | Service management | Front-line service personnel | Elected councillors, board members, trustees | Policy managers and directors | Legal directors |
Topics: Human rights | equality | assessing risk | transparency and accountability | proportionality | balancing competing rights | involvement and participation | organisational change
This report describes the experience of five public and voluntary sector organisations in Britain that have sought to establish a 'human rights culture'. It identifies the steps they took to embed human rights into their policy and practice. It assesses the benefits that accrued to the organisations, service users and staff - where these are known - and highlights the principal lessons for other public sector bodies and for the external agencies that inspect, monitor or support them. The report describes itself as 'lessons from the field'; it acknowledges that much of the activity it analyses is in its infancy and it is not yet possible, in most instances, to make a 'cost-benefit' analysis of using human rights to improve service delivery.
This report was commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as part of its statutory inquiry into how public authorities in Britain are responding to the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998.
It is based on interviews conducted between May and August 2008 with staff at different levels of seniority in five public and voluntary sector organisations in England and Wales - each with a different function and each selected for its reputation for having made progress in embedding human rights.
In each organisation, the report notes, a concern to avoid the risks associated with litigation under the HRA was a factor in encouraging a focus on human rights. However, a desire to improve services and to go beyond a negative 'tick box' approach to compliance were stronger drivers.
In several cases, the HRA as such does not seem to have been the most important driver for change; other legislation or guiding documents were equally or more significant in encouraging a focus on the 'FREDA' principles that underpin the HRA:
However, in each organisation, a stronger focus on the Act was viewed as a priority for the future.
The report identifies two primary barriers to embedding human rights in an organisation:
The report describes how organisations addressed these barriers on their 'human rights journey'. It identifies common themes to emerge in terms of how organisations:
The report highlights the 'critical success factors' to emerge from this body of experience.
Leadership is critical
The report finds that visible support for human rights from politicians, chief executives, board members and senior staff is 'fundamentally important'.
One of the most important leadership actions is to demonstrate how human rights fit with, and reinforce, other corporate priorities and values - 'articulating what their particular organisation might look like and how it might operate if human rights were embedded into every aspect of its work'.
Winning hearts and minds
Also important is the creation of a network of committed 'champions' who can advocate for human rights among staff and stimulate interest. Training is also critical, especially that which:
Public and service user involvement
The report suggests that effective mechanisms to take account of people's views can help public bodies to anticipate the rights claims that might arise - and to develop appropriate and proportionate responses to these claims.
Informing people about their rights
Evidence from case study organisations highlights the importance of building pressure for change 'from below' by:
The report identifies a degree of nervousness among public sector staff about informing service users and the public about their rights: what is required, it suggests, is a process that helps people understand their rights in the context of the complex balancing acts that public bodies perform.
Integrating human rights into decision-making processes
This research demonstrates the importance of integrating human rights into existing
processes for making decisions, rather than creating new, separate human rights tools.
Interviewees in each organisation identified benefits from embedding human rights - to service users, carers, communities, staff, and to their organisation.
Human rights are used - both by staff and service users - to challenge outmoded practices or services which are designed around the needs of service providers rather than users.
Establishing non-negotiable service standards that apply to everyone
Human rights can establish a set of shared standards that apply to all. This can be of particular value in underpinning community cohesion initiatives, and in safeguarding vital services, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Providing a framework for making better decisions
Human rights principles can strengthen decision-making at both corporate and service levels and help to prevent service failure. Human rights can provide a 'check and balance' - helping to determine proportionate action, especially where the interests of different parties conflict.
Managing organisational risk
Building human rights considerations into decision-making processes was perceived as a way of minimising (if not necessarily removing) the risk of legal challenge.
Case study organisations had used human rights to embrace emerging policy imperatives - such as commissioning, partnership working, user choice or personalisation - while retaining a focus on the core values of equality, respect and dignity. They saw the HRA as a way to guarantee a rights-based focus over the longer term, as other policy agendas come and go.
The case study organisations found that embedding human rights principles can have real benefits in terms of staff morale and enthusiasm - re-connecting staff with core public service values.
Strengthening work on equality and diversity
The HRA and human rights principles were seen to add weight to the arguments against discrimination in individual cases. At a corporate level, human rights, equality and diversity were seen as complementary and reinforcing. However, the report highlights that organisations do not always know how to connect these imperatives in practice.
Enhancing organisational reputation and distinctiveness
Across the case studies, human rights were perceived to have built public trust and confidence in services and legitimated actions and decisions.
Mersey Care NHS Trust provides specialist mental health services. Since 2001, it has developed a human rights-based approach to involving service users and carers in, for example, planning and reviewing services and recruiting staff. A survey revealed that 89 per cent of service users felt that involvement had positively affected their recovery and well-being. The figure for carers was 71 per cent. Seventy two per cent of managers said that involving service users and carers had made 'a lot of positive difference' to them; none reported a negative impact.
Source: The impact of a human rights culture on public sector organisations: lessons from practice, pp. 69-70
At a corporate level, human rights, equality and diversity were seen by the case study organisations as complementary and reinforcing. The HRA and human rights principles were seen to add weight to the arguments against discrimination in individual cases.
However, the report highlights that organisations do not always know how to connect these imperatives in practice. While most interviewees appeared to have clear conceptualisations of the links between these agendas (with human rights as a bedrock of principles that apply to all), some were unclear and felt that further guidance would be helpful on how to draw these issues together and develop an integrated corporate response.
In most cases, the report says, the costs and benefits of using human rights have not been systematically identified or measured: it is still too early to 'say with any degree of precision what an organisation with a "human rights culture" looks like or how it might operate'.
However, this report is a valuable synthesis of some of the more advanced examples of this work, and recommends ways in which, in future, it can be supported, replicated and evaluated.
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