Human Rights Day is an important reminder of why rights matter to us all, focusing attention on the protection our rights offer us and the difference they make to our lives, often without us realising.
Human rights can help to prevent abuse, neglect and inadequate care, as well as helping to ensure that older people’s personal choices and dignity are upheld; human rights can help to ensure that older people’s family lives are protected and that they are not deprived of their liberty.
Yet many older people are not aware of their rights, and the ways in which their rights can protect them. Research conducted on my behalf found that a third of older people – over a quarter of a million people – do not understand their rights. If an individual does not understand the rights they have, they will find it difficult to use their rights in their day-to-day lives and take action, if needed, to ensure that their rights are upheld.
Rights belong to us all and should be used by public bodies to deliver fairness, equality, dignity, respect and autonomy. Rights should be used proactively as a means of driving improvements and cultural shifts, as a means of ensuring that the starting point for policy- and decision-making is centred around the person, rather than the system.
Whilst there is growing recognition of the importance of rights by public bodies in Wales and some examples of a rights-based approach being used to underpin service delivery, there is still a long way to go before this approach becomes the norm. In the meantime, we must seize every opportunity to promote rights and their importance to ensure that rights drive the policy agenda in Wales, rather than simply being a footnote within it.
The commitment made by the Welsh Government to undertake a range of work to ‘make rights real’ for older people was an important step forward, but Wales also has an opportunity to do even more and lead the world by demonstrating its commitment to older people’s rights.
That’s why I support Darren Millar AM’s proposal for an Older People’s Rights Bill, legislation designed to enshrine the rights of older people within Welsh law so they can live free of ageism and discrimination and participate fully in their communities.
A bill of this kind would create specific duties for the Welsh Government to have due regard for the United Nations Principles for Older Persons across its work and to report on the ways in which it is promoting older people’s rights. It would also raise the profile and status of older people’s rights, helping to ensure that they better understand the rights they have and when their rights are being breached.
There was cross-party support for a bill of this kind when it was previously debated in the Assembly following calls from my office for older people’s rights legislation, and I sincerely hope that the appetite to take meaningful, world-leading action to protect and promote older people’s rights remains.
I look forward to working with Assembly Members as these proposals are examined and debated in the weeks and months ahead, but I will also continue to make the case for why older people’s rights and a rights based approach are so important, alongside supporting older people through my casework team, and holding public services to account where necessary, to ensure their rights are upheld.