Who Needs the Human Rights Act?

How many people reading this item will realise that today is Human Rights Day? Most likely, it will pass unnoticed or be criticised as another manifestation of political correctness. Yet, surely, having legislation that protect the basic human rights of everyone across the UK, including elderly or disabled people, who are possibly at their most vulnerable, is something to be proud of? So why aren't we celebrating?

Sadly, it is likely because we have allowed the myth that the Human Rights Act is nothing more than a rogue's charter used by lawyers and politicians to protect the undeserving thanks to misleading and inaccurate stories involving cats and immigration amongst others. What we read less about are those vulnerable elderly and less able people in the UK who depend on the Act for protection, or to improve the care services on which they rely.

Dignity and respect are at the core of the Act. Unfortunately, vulnerable people are sometimes treated in a way far removed from this. What is most frightening is that this can happen when they are at their most susceptible, needing care in hospital, residential units or in their own homes.

You need only glance at the appalling findings uncovered by the BBC Panorama Special of incidents at The Winterbourne View facility in Bristol aired in May of this year. Or examine the failings that took place at Stafford Hospital during 2005-2008. Then there's the case of the elderly couple who were to be separated after more than 65 years together: the husband had been assessed as needing residential care but his wife was told by the local authority that she did not qualify.

But the Human Rights Act is much more than a legal cosh with which to bash public bodies when they fail. It gives them a positive duty to protect human rights, providing a great basis for improving the care services they provide – and as such should be celebrated.

We may think it is not necessary to have legislation to make us treat people with respect and dignity. Perhaps it shouldn't be. But, sadly, while some older people continue to be treated so badly, they continue to need the protection the Act provides.

Next time someone claims that we don't need the Human Rights Act; perhaps they should be reminded that it is there to protect everyone – including societies very vulnerable.

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