The publication this week of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into the home care system in England rightly provoked widespread condemnation of the lack of dignity, neglect and physical abuse that some older people were experiencing as they received paid social care in their own homes.
Although half of those who provided evidence to the EHRC said they were satisfied with their standard of care, the inquiry found a number of recurring problems – which were particularly highlighted by national and sector media – which included examples of clients not being washed or fed properly, or experiencing financial and physical abuse.
Some home care, the EHRC concluded, was violating the European Convention on Human Rights – particularly the articles that guarantee dignity, personal autonomy and the right to life.
What the media have largely overlooked however, is how the inquiry also found there was:
“…pervasive social isolation and loneliness experienced by many older people confined to their homes who lack support to get out and take part in community life. Yet evidence…indicates that social activities are some of the first support services to be withdrawn when local authorities cut back their spending”
In June of this year, Baroness Greengross spoke at a seminar on dementia as the inquiry was still being conducted. She reference Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to argue that we have a basic “human right to contact” throughout our lives. The EHRC later described this as a right “create and maintain social relationships” with people.
Perhaps a better description would be that we have a human right to meaningful and supportive contact that recognises our humanity and worth, and improves our overall wellbeing regardless of age, disability or health. This human right to contact and relationship should be defended as strongly as dignity, personal autonomy and the right to life.
So the Campaign to End Loneliness supports the EHRC’s suggestion that:
“In some limited circumstances, this could mean that local authorities have a positive obligation to remedy extreme isolation experienced by individuals who depend on care services to maintain relationships with others by getting out of their homes” p.39
And whilst there are examples of local authorities who are addressing loneliness and social isolation in older populations (Bristol City Council’s support of the Bristol LinkAge scheme for example) the capacity for local authorities to take the lead and reduce loneliness in their local area is largely ignored or overshadowed by competing public health issues.
So we need to support the EHRC’s call for a loophole in the Human Rights Act to be closed so that which older people receiving home care from private and voluntary sector agencies are protected by alongside those receiving state-run services.
And we need to put pressure on our local governments to consider the negative health implications of loneliness and address individual and community wellbeing through their commissioning practices – this something the Campaign will be focusing on next year and we hope others will join us in this work.