Change that leads to better lives

Blog: The importance of human rights in independent advocacy

Welcome to Advocacy Awareness Week 2022. This is our 5th year of spending a week celebrating and raising awareness about independent advocacy and this year our focus is on advocacy and human rights.

Download the logos and resources to help share your stories

We’re really pleased to be partnering with British Institute of Human Rights to bring you inspiring content and key advocacy and human right know how all week. As ever, advocacy organisations across the country are undertaking their own awareness raising activities in communities and online.

You can follow along and contribute to the conversation using the following hashtags on social media: #AAW22 #HumanRightsAdvocacy #AdvocacyInAction #SelfAdvocacyWorks.

So, why the focus on Human Rights?

Well, securing and upholding people’s rights has been a key part of the advocacy role for as long as advocacy has existed. The Action for Advocacy definition of independent advocacy was enshrined in the advocacy charter back in 2002 and rights have been front and centre since then.

“Advocacy is taking action to support people say what they want, secure their rights, pursue their interests and obtain services they need. Advocacy providers and advocates work in partnership with the people they support and take their side, promoting social inclusion, equality and social justice.” Advocacy Charter, 2018

Safeguarding people’s rights and entitlements is a key part of an advocate's work on a day-to-day basis and our human rights statute underpins the work of independent advocates – providing a framework for advocates practice as they support and work alongside people who access public services and particularly health and social care services. Put simply, independent advocates are human rights defenders.

A wonderful thing about the Human Rights Act is that it applies to each of us equally – enshrining every individuals’ right to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. It allows each of us as individuals to live and be who we are, with our families, in our communities and for that to be respected by the state, by public bodies.

Public bodies, including individuals working in public services like the NHS, police or local councils, must respect, protect and fulfil individuals’ human rights and the Human Rights Act is our mechanism for holding public bodies to account.

Anther wonderful thing about the Human Rights Act is that all our other laws in the UK must be compatible with it. This means that laws and the way they are implemented must support our human rights.

This is particularly important for people at risk of exclusion and discrimination and those at risk of not being heard or understood by public services. Human rights based approaches to health and social care are about understanding, respecting, and responding to each individual. They’re about ensuring that the Mental Health Act, The Mental Capacity Act, The Care Act are applied in rights compatible ways and that services and supports are person led, inclusive, involve people in decisions about care and treatment and are rights respecting.

We don’t often acknowledge the daily use of human rights and human rights language in advocacy, but advocates do use human rights every day. For example:

  • An independent mental capacity advocate might query whether the proposed move for someone to a nursing home is the least restrictive option in providing their care.
  • Advocates challenging blanket decisions impacting people, like the blanket application of do not resuscitate orders that we saw in the pandemic or blanket decisions not to fund ‘cleaning’ or ‘community access’ by local authorities.
  • Supporting someone to request and access accessible information to enable them to understand their rights and entitlements.
  • An independent mental capacity advocate challenging a Dr’s decision to withhold medical treatment from someone with a disability.
  • An independent mental health advocate supporting someone to question mental health professionals using restraints and long-term segregation as a part of their care and treatment.
  • Ensuring that someone is able to be fully involved and participate in their review of their care under the Care Act or in a Care and Treatment Review.
  • Supporting someone to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made in the way that the NHS communicates with them and in the way that health care services are provided.
  • Supporting someone to ask for kosher food to be provided in their local authority funded care home.
  • Supporting someone to explain to their social worker why it’s important that they return to the town they have lived and worked and been a part of the community in for the last 20 years.
  • Raising a safeguarding concern when abuse or neglect are taking place within a mental health setting.

All of these actions and the changes that can result from them can happen because of the Human Rights Act. Powerful and important stuff.

We’re all acutely aware of the horrendous and abusive treatment of people with a learning disability and autistic people in mental health hospitals that has been exposed on under cover television programmes in recent weeks. But these weren’t the first of these truly terrible exposés showing significant human rights abuses of people in services.

Advocates must be a part of the ongoing work to ensure this kind of abuse and human rights violation ends. Advocates have a unique role because of their independence; they are part of the health and social care system, but by necessity, are slightly separate as they stand alongside and represent individuals. They are in a position to see how people are being cared for and treated and can safeguard people’s rights.

It could potentially be easy for advocates to become overly understanding of the challenges in providing person centred, human rights focused care faced by their colleagues in local authorities and health and social care settings. But it has never been more important for advocates to maintain their independence, their professional curiosity and their knowledge and use of human rights if they are going to continue to be the powerful and effective human rights defenders, we need them to be.

We need continued awareness raising and understanding of human rights in health and social care.

We need continued awareness raising and understanding of the role of advocacy in supporting human rights in health and social care.

And, for advocates to continue to be effective, vigilant, and tenacious human rights defenders we need investment in advocacy. We need advocates on the ground, alongside people accessing services. We need advocates to really understand people’s rights and entitlements in order to be able to support people to access them and to uphold them. We need advocates to be well trained and well supported, and to have time to reflect with managers and peers. And we need health and social care professionals to understand and respect the advocates independence and listen when advocates are supporting people to speak up about their human rights. We need advocates to continue to use the language of human rights every day.

So, have a great Advocacy Awareness Week 2022! I hope you get to learn something new about advocacy and something new about human rights so you can be an even stronger defender of human rights. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing and learning from all the stories about advocacy and rights being shared during the week. I hope you are too!

You can join the conversation and share your own stories about advocacy and human rights on social media using the following hashtags: #AAW22 #HumanRightsAdvocacy #AdvocacyInAction #SelfAdvocacyWorks.

News Sign-up

Contact Details

Gail Petty

Subscribe to NDTi News

Thank you for taking the time to subscribe.