As the Scottish Parliament debated Amnesty International’s latest campaign Do The Human Right Thing: Keep The Human Rights Act earlier this year, I was struck by some of the stories emerging from MSPs about the use of the Human Rights Act in health and social care settings.
We heard the story of Jan, who lives with Multiple sclerosis, who said that the existence of the Act helped her to “feel strong – strong enough to search for the support to challenge my local council.” We also heard that the Act was used to successfully persuade a local authority to enable an elderly couple to stay in the same care home.
Like many, I was dismayed that on re-election in May, the UK Government confirmed that it will “bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”, effectively replacing the Human Rights Act (and the conventions to which it ties us). This action sparked Amnesty’s campaign, but also encouraged other third sector organisations to consider the context in which they operate and the valuable role the Act plays in underpinning health and social care.
Third sector organisations across Scotland are often operating in difficult circumstances to ensure people can enjoy their right to live well
Some of these stories have been developed into a range of filmed case studies by the SNAP Action Group on Health and Social Care, which the ALLIANCE co-convenes alongside NHS Health Scotland.
C-Change Scotland, a Glasgow-based organisation committed to supporting real positive change in the lives of individuals and families with support needs, recount how human rights provide a “steely core” to what they do, encouraging the development of flexible and continuously assessed support plans guided by individuals and through the creation of an Improvement Council comprising of people who use support and services to identify issues and make suggestions for change. For C-Change a human rights-based approach identifies their organisation as not existing to “do people a favour” but to actively support them to achieve their human rights.
In practice a human rights based approach can range from ensuring participation and empowerment run through the basis of service provision, to challenging the legality of decision making by a government or local authority. One of HUG Action for Mental Health’s key activities is delivering training to Social Work Mental Health Officers (MHOs) working across the Highlands. MHOs play a key role in assessing the decision-making capacity of people experiencing mental health problems which can lead to their involuntary detention and treatment. HUG uses rights-based discussions to open up dialogue with a view to avoiding conflict.
These are not isolated stories. They could have been told by third sector organisations across Scotland, who are often operating in difficult circumstances to ensure people can enjoy their right to live well. As the Scottish Human Rights Commission has identified, the next challenge will be to ensure any proposed legislative change takes us forwards and not back.