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Human Rights for customers


Undertaken at the request of the DCA (as was), the MoJ has published the findings of its ‘Human Rights Insight Project’. The BBC did a story on it, and the publication can be found on the MoJ site here.

There are a number of things to cheer in the report, not least its finding that

“Vulnerable, frequent users are particularly exposed to service delivery that fails to respect their human rights”

But there are some depressing aspects. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that the Daily Mail is still considered to be a newspaper:

It is only when it comes to the current application of the Human Rights Act that negative views are in the ascendant, with a net total of 43% of the general public agreeing that too many people (mostly asylum seekers and other ‘foreigners) take advantage of the Human Rights Act.

I’m not sure how one ‘takes advantage’ of the HRA. And let’s be honest, even putting ‘take advantage’ in a survey question, if that is what was done, prejudges the answer – that the HRA can be abused, whether or not one considers that it is being so.

Remarkably, very few people surveyed actually make a connection between human rights and their experience of social services or NHS provision and bewilderingly

Some of the general public rated human rights and the HRA as not at all relevant to their dealings with workers in the NHS and social services, and yet agreed with the majority that being treated with dignity and respect was very important.

Maybe that is less surprising when one is told that

While nearly all of the population say they have heard of the Human Rights Act (89%), it should be borne in mind that one in five (20%) respondents also reported being aware of a fictional law.

Presumably the one about goats.

The report does recommend specific training on human rights for those in public bodies, particularly for decision makers, and further that:

The Ministry of Justice should develop a communications strategy for human rights that builds on, and reinforces, the public’s positive attitudes to human rights and their protection by law in this country, as identified by the Human Rights Insight Project, and addresses the need to correct public misunderstandings, including those arising from reporting of the impact of the Human Rights Act.

But a low grade depression is brought on by the new labour speak in which users of public services are consistently referred to as ‘customers’. A footnote attempts to justify this

The term ‘customer’ is unusual in relation to health and social services, whose customers are more usually referred to as patients or clients. The use of the term in this report opens the way, however, for the drawing of important conclusions with regard to ‘customer care’. The term ‘customer care’ will, it is believed, be widely understood as referring to the everyday, environmental and relational aspects of the staff/client interface in any public service. The difficulty in using the terms ‘patient care’ or ‘client care’ is that they may be understood to encompass some of the higher professional skills as well as the basic day-to-day interactions encompassed within ‘customer care’. ‘Customer care’ is therefore used in this report specifically to denote this important but sub-clinical level of interaction between staff and their patients or clients.

Oh great, the only way of conceiving of ‘everyday, environmental, relational aspects’ of interactions is as customer care. What impoverished hell is this?

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


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