Change that leads to better lives

Blog: Driving change through human rights

Upholding and protecting human rights is central to almost everything we work on. It plays a key role in our organisational strategy. In this blog Annie Smith, Delivery Lead for Community Led Support, explains why.

Annie human rights web page 01

At the National Development Team for Inclusion, we are committed to promoting and protecting human rights across everything we do, every day. Human rights are at the heart of our vision, to enable people to live the life they choose, regardless of age, disability, or other circumstances which put them at risk of exclusion.

Where do human rights come from?

Before we consider how human rights fit into our world nowadays, it is worth reflecting on where they came from. Our modern understanding of human rights came about in response to the atrocities that were committed during the Second World War. Never again could a government be allowed to decide who has rights and who does not. In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This aimed to protect people by putting checks and balances on government power and setting the minimum standards of how people could expect to be treated when they interacted with the state.

Over the years, human rights protections evolved and in 1998, the Human Rights Act was passed by UK parliament. This is still the main law that protects the rights and freedoms of every person in the UK, regardless of age, disability or other status.

One of the main ways that Human Rights Act works is that it puts a legal duty on public bodies to respect, protect and fulfil human rights in all of their actions and decisions, every day. Public bodies include local and central government, the NHS, the police and emergency services, schools, courts, and many more.

Why do human rights matter?

So, human rights are not just a nice thing to consider. In the UK, it is the law that public bodies uphold human rights in practice. If this doesn’t happen people can raise a human rights issue in UK courts and tribunals.

There are 16 rights protected by the Human Rights Act, including our right to life (Article 2), our right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), and our right to respect for our private and family life and our home (Article 8). Our rights should not be interfered with by public services unless absolutely necessary, we should be supported to be able to enjoy our rights, and if our rights are put at risk, public bodies should investigate what happened to try to prevent it from happening again.

The Human Rights Act has been around for 25 years now. This law has helped ordinary people to speak up for their rights, as well as holding public bodies accountable for their actions and giving them a framework to make rights-respecting decisions in practice. The British Institute of Human Rights shares lots of stories of how people, advocates, and staff working in public services have used the Human Rights Act to make a positive difference in their life and work.

However, despite the significant progress we have seen towards building a culture of respect for human rights in the UK, there are still situations where people’s rights are put at risk today. We see instances of autistic people and people with a learning disability being subject to abuse and neglect in institutions that claim to provide “care”. During the pandemic, we saw blanket visiting bans being placed on care home residents to prevent the spread of Covid-19, disproportionately impacting some people’s right to respect for family life. And just last week, the ‘Illegal Migration’ Act became law after the United Nations raised serious concerns about the impact this would have on rights of migrants arriving in the UK, not to mention the fundamental principle of universality – that everyone should be entitled to the same rights and protections as the next person.

Why do human rights matter to NDTi?

At NDTi, we cannot accept those situations where human rights are breached, abused, and disregarded in our society. That is why human rights are central to our approach, acting as the foundation for driving social change across the wide variety of work we do. We work directly with people who often interact with public services, including children and young people, people with disabilities and older people. We aim to support them to know their rights and speak up when they are at risk. Equally, we work alongside staff working in public services and large governmental bodies, considering their ability and accountability to make rights-respecting decisions in practice. Whether we are working with rights-holders or duty-bearers, we aim to ensure that human rights are respected and to challenge where this does not happen. We also strive to create our own rights-respecting culture by embedding human rights principles of respect, fairness, and dignity within our own ways of working.

The Community Led Support programme recently shared a report called Community Led Support: Through a Human Rights Lens, setting out how this transformative approach to social care, health and community support is underpinned by and supports human rights in practice.

CLS Human Rights Lens
Community Led Support: Through a Human Rights Lens

In the report, we talk about four different rights protected by the Human Rights Act including the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), the right to liberty (Article 5), the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (Article 8), and the right to be free from discrimination (Article 14). The report sets out how Community Led Support can and does support these rights, drawing on evidence and examples from areas we have worked with to implement positive and sustainable change. Ultimately, to ‘do the right thing’ for those of us who need support at any time in our lives to live well and as independently as possible with purpose and connection.

The right to private and family life, home and correspondence, for example, protects so many aspects of our daily life: wellbeing, relationships, community, autonomy, home, privacy. Promoting wellbeing is a cornerstone of Community Led Support, and indeed we have observed improved quality of life (a measure of choice, control, and wellbeing) for people receiving care and support and their carers in the local areas implementing this approach. Additionally, by encouraging positive connections between larger public bodies, community partners and local people, and making better use of community spaces, people have expressed feeling less socially isolated and more connected with their community through the process of Community Led Support. Co-production is also threaded throughout the approach, valuing people’s autonomy and their expertise in their own lives.

Human rights belong to all of us. When they are not met, it is our responsibility to speak up and ask that the law is followed. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “without concerted citizen action to uphold [human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world”. This is why NDTi is committed to human rights.

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