Our role is to make equality and human rights a reality for everyone and we are working to uphold rights in social care.
We want to see equality and human rights built into the heart of social care, guiding decision-making in the sector, as well as reforms.
Here we set out what this means in practice by:
We hope this approach, and specifically our nine principles, will be used by:
Governments and parliamentarians, when making decisions about social care frameworks, funding and reform.
Social care commissioners and providers as well as social workers, to help them embed equality and human rights into policy and practice.
Regulators, to help guide their important work to improve standards in the social care sector.
Those with care needs and carers (and those who advise and support them), as a resource to help them understand and realise their rights.
What do human rights mean for social care?
Social care plays a critical role in protecting our fundamental human rights.
It protects our right to life and to be free from poor treatment, by helping us to meet our basic needs like eating, drinking, washing, dressing or taking medication.
But a social care system based on human rights principles goes much further than this.
It promotes our dignity, supports our relationships with others, and helps us to have independence, connection and community. Ultimately, social care means that whatever our needs or age, we can live our lives in the way we choose to.
What does equality mean for social care?
Equality legislation can help us all to benefit from social care.
It means we should all be treated with dignity and respect when using (or seeking to use) care services and it prevents us facing discrimination or harassment.
Our principles for social care
These nine principles set out the standards we expect governments, social care commissioners and social care providers to strive for when designing and delivering social care.
Our principles are:
Choice and control
Community and connection
Support for unpaid carers
A valued workforce
Which rights and protections are most important for social care?
The Human Rights Act
The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms everyone is entitled to. It incorporates most of the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. This includes:
Article 2 (the right to life) such as taking appropriate measures to safeguard the life of those with care needs, like providing timely medication, safeguarding those at risk of suicide, avoiding dangerous restraint techniques or investigating deaths when something goes wrong.
Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment) such as preventing degrading treatment against those with care needs or investigating allegations of such treatment.
Article 5 (the right to liberty and security) such as protecting those with care needs’ freedoms, avoiding inappropriate detention or restricting someone’s movements unnecessarily.
Article 8 (the right to family and private life), such as protecting those with care needs’ ability to see and communicate with loved ones or providing support so they can live in their own home.
Article 14 (protection from discrimination) means that everyone, including those with care needs and carers, should be able to enjoy the rights above, without discrimination.
The Equality Act
The Equality Act 2010 provides the legal framework for discrimination law in Britain.
The non-discrimination provisions ban unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation. In practice, this means social care services being available and provided on an equal basis to everyone, whatever their protected characteristics. It also means considering whether a policy or practice, which applies to everyone, might place a certain group at particular disadvantage.
The reasonable adjustment provisions means taking anticipatory steps to help disabled people avoid substantial disadvantages due to their disability. For example, providing British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters to communicate with those with care needs, sharing information about social care services (or about decisions) in accessible formats or providing quiet places in care homes for those with sensory needs.
Under the public sector equality duty, when developing policies and practices, consideration should be given to preventing discrimination, promoting equality and encouraging good relations between people with different protected characteristics. For example, ensuring that services are reaching all sections of the population, or including robust anti-harassment policies (including against racist or homophobic abuse) in care home contracts, to protect everyone who uses social care services.
International human rights treaties
A number of international United Nations (UN) human rights treaties have been ‘ratified’ by the UK Government, which means they are expected to reflect these in domestic legislation, policy and guidance. The Welsh Government has responsibility for the implementation of these in devolved areas.
Key relevant treaty provisions include:
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) sets out a number of principles (such as dignity, autonomy and participation) for social care frameworks, as well as the design and delivery of services. Article 12 (equal recognition before the law) means that disabled people should have the same legal rights as non-disabled people, in all aspects of life. Article 19 (the right to independent living) means protecting the rights of disabled people to live and participate in the community and giving them the same choices as non-disabled people.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) includes Article 11 (right to an adequate standard of living) and Article 12 (right to physical and mental health). This means that the UK Government has committed to recognising and taking steps to realise the rights of those with care needs and their carers to have an adequate standard of living and to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The UK Government has not incorporated these treaties into domestic legislation, so they are not enforceable in UK courts, but they do represent legally binding obligations on the UK Government in international law, and can be used to interpret rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Welsh Government requires Welsh Ministers to consciously consider the rights included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) when making decisions, policies and laws. Relevant public bodies exercising functions (under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014) must also actively consider CRC and UNCRPD rights, as well as those included in the United Nations Principles for Older Persons. Individuals can directly challenge those public bodies via the courts where they have failed to consider these rights.