Carers’ human rights being breached

A new report published by Carers UK reveals that people who care for their elderly, sick or disabled relatives are being let down because public authorities are failing to implement the Human Rights Act. This is having serious, and potentially life-threatening, consequences.

The report, written by leading human rights consultants, Global Partners and Associates, examines the experiences of carers in the context of the main provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000.

Research from the report ‘Whose rights are they anyway? Carers and the Human Rights Act’ concludes that the Human Rights Act has not yet been of value to carers, but that it could be. It finds significant weaknesses in the social care and health system, as well as evidence that in individual cases carers may face human rights violations which could be open to challenge in the courts.

It bases its findings on three key tenets of the Human Rights Act where carers’ rights are clearly being breached:

Carers’ rights to life are not adequately considered
Under Article 2 – the right to have one’s life protected by law – carers often jeopardise their health by delaying medical treatment to a point where they put their lives at risk. This is because of inadequate support to relieve them of their caring duties.

Carers’ rights to privacy and family life
Similarly, under Article 8 – the right to respect for one’s privacy and family life – the Act offers a framework for ensuring that the rights of an older or disabled person are balanced against the rights of a carer.  Balancing rarely happens.  Social services teams regularly tell carers that they cannot have a service the family wants, before their needs have even been assessed. They are told that even if they have an assessment they will not receive any more support. These attitudes and a failure to apply current legislation deter carers from exercising their basic rights, such as keeping up family relationships and social ties.

Carers’ rights to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment
Under Article 3 – the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment – the health risks that carers face could be an issue under this clause.  If public authorities know of carers who are suffering acute mental health problems or physical illness as a result of caring and do nothing to alleviate this or prevent it, this could constitute a violation of this human right.

The research presents a clear picture of carers who find that the services they need are not available to them because of cost, staff time or attitude.  This lack of resources available in order to guarantee rights could itself be considered a breach of the Human Rights Act.

Yet, the report argues, good practice need not be expensive. Imaginative solutions such as the example provided in one area of a 24-hour emergency service to enable support arrangements to be put in place in case of a crisis, would certainly protect Article 2 of the Act.

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK, says, “Carers tell us time and time again that they feel their human rights are being infringed when they are not given a choice about caring.  They find that when support is not right or insufficient, it is impossible to maintain even a basic quality of life.  Despite developments in law to improve the situation for carers, these policies are not being put into practice.  As this report shows, this issue needs to be urgently addressed to avoid legal challenge.

“We are not talking about just a few people. There are six million carers throughout the UK and 1.25 million provide over 50 hours of care per week.  Every year, around two million people become carers.  This gives an indication of the potential scale of the issue.”

Carers UK is calling for new measures to address the situation urgently:

further and urgent investigation into whether the Human Rights Act is being applied correctly in relation to carers
action from Government to bring forward legislation to prevent discrimination against people with caring responsibilities
a review of Government policy to ensure carers are prevented from social exclusion
a review of funding by local and national government to ensure there are sufficient resources to prevent infringement of the Human Rights Act
improved guidance for health and social services practitioners
action from regulatory bodies to incorporate these issues into their inspections of health and social care services
regular information and rights-based campaigns to ensure carers are aware of their rights