Emma Voglemann, a volunteer for the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), writes about why human rights are so important for advocates:
For advocates, human rights are a shared language of duty and respect that can be used to achieve good outcomes out of court. The Human Rights Act means that public authorities have a legal obligation to respect human rights when they make any decisions involving a person’s life. Advocates can raise human rights in discussion with a person or public authority and they can use human rights to give older people a voice in decisions about their own life, even if they may not have capacity for that particular issue.
BIHR have worked with older people and advocates to help them understand and benefit from human rights. In our Guide for Older People we encourage older people to know how to utilise their human rights by recognising situations where rights may be at risk and how to seek help. Through our partnership work, those we work with have used the Human Rights Act to achieve real outcomes.
Human rights advocacy in real life: Using the Human Rights Act to challenge blanket use of tilt-back chairs in a nursing home.
Laura is a consultant who works with older people, and having worked with BIHR is a keen proponent of human rights in NHS services. She was visiting a nursing home in London when she saw several residents were effectively trapped in special ‘tilt-back’ chairs. The chairs were being used because they stopped people in the home from trying to get up, falling and hurting themselves.
Sadly, this meant many older people who could walk weren’t able to get up and out of the chairs. Instead they had to wait for staff to come and get them out of the chairs so they could go to the toilet or go and get something to eat. The residents at the home who were previously very independent could no longer choose what they wanted to do with their days, and because they couldn’t walk around very often, they started to find walking very difficult.
Laura was concerned this practice in the home raised human rights issues. She talked to the residents who were kept in the chairs, who told her they felt their dignity and independence was being taken away from them. Laura realised that by not allowing the residents who could walk the freedom to move around, their dignity and autonomy, protected by the right to private life in the Human Rights Act (Article 8) was being risked. She was also concerned that for some of the residents, it might even be inhuman or degrading treatment, which is never allowed under the Human Rights Act (Article 3). Laura raised her concerns with the staff and using human rights language they were able to see that treating all of the residents the same in order to protect the few who needed the tilt-back chairs was not appropriate. Residents who could walk were no longer placed in the tilt back chairs and staff encouraged them to start using their walking skills again.
BIHR’s project work with older people and advocates
Through partnership projects with older people’s groups, including local branches of Age UK, we have worked to empower older people through training around how to use the language of human rights in their daily lives and to influence service delivery and policy.
Through this work one group of older people in Derby made a DVD on the issues facing older members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community who live in residential care, which received extremely positive feedback. (Watch the film here). Another group looked at the lack of public toilets and transport links, which helped them collaborate with other groups affected by this issue, such as disabled people and mothers with young children. They raised awareness about this issue and engaged with local officials.
If you’d like to find out more about our work with older people, or to find out more about how advocates can use human rights, check out our resources aimed at advocates and older people. All BIHR’s resources are freely available here.
If, like us, you think human rights are worth protecting, find out how we can stand Together For Human Rights, check out our page: The Human Rights Act: Protect What Protects Us All