Human Rights and Covid-19

Greater equality does not occur by treating everyone equally. This truth should be self-evident. We do not experience our physical, emotional and social worlds in the same way. Many barriers impede disabled people’s access to the range of opportunities available. Some are physical, others environmental or economic; often it is a combination. Other barriers exist in latent form, and are manifest in times of crisis. Pressure on systems can reveal underlying assumptions about the perceived worth of disabled citizens.The response to the pandemic, Covid-19, is one such example.

In the early days of the virus, concerns were raised about health guidance that appeared to discriminate against disabled people. Following protests and legal scrutiny the guidance was amended. Similarly, concerns were raised about the propensity to apply Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notices to disabled patients records. Such actions appeared to be based on the erroneous assumption that having an impairment was the same as having an underlying health condition. In this context, it is not enough to support disabled people to ‘take their chances’ in a health and social care system under pressure and expect equal outcomes. From a human rights perspective, it was necessary to take practical steps to mitigating predictable risks arising from such systemic discrimination.

Such steps included working with individuals and their families (where appropriate) to review their Communication Passports, in readiness for any potential hospital admission. Supporting individuals to secure, from their GP, a ‘letter of comfort’ detailing that their disability was not an underlying health condition. Also, that any such conditions that did exist, was well managed. Individuals, families, team members and wider networks of multi-agency support actively worked together to ensure human rights were respected, protected and fulfilled.

Everyone has not experienced the pandemic in the same way. We do not achieve greater equality by denying the impact of this crisis has fallen more heavily on some than others. It stands to reason that if disabled citizens are disproportionately detrimentally affected by this pandemic, they should be prioritised for measures to offset these impacts. This includes financial aid, access to support and of course priority access to vaccine roll out.

On international Human Rights Day, we consider the impact on a global and national scale. It is also incumbent upon us to seek the opportunities we all have to repect, protect and fullfill human rights obligations in ‘those small places close to home’. Knowing that, ‘without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world’ (Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958)

Sam Smith – C-Change CEO

Being Human, But Why?

Tuesday 28th August 2018, marks the fourth in a series of Being Human conferences hosted by the organisation I work for, C-Change Scotland. The organisation is a charity and by all accounts is a service provider organisation. It works with disabled people with additional support needs assisting them to live their good life. So why has the organisation been spending time talking about human rights, is that not someone else’s business, like policy makers, lawyers or the courts?

We think not, we think human rights and the debates and discussion about them are absolutely the stuff of social care. Dignity, the founding principle of human rights is the bedrock of good social care, indeed of any relational interaction. The problem is there seems to be a gulf between policy and practice and rhetoric and reality. The conference also heralds the launch of the book I have written, Human Rights and Social Care, Putting Rights into Practice. The book attempts to make inroads into that gap by connecting case law and practice examples. The book uses the PANEL principles of Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Equality and Legality as a navigational tool to guide practice.

Book launches usually take the form of an author’s lecture and drinks reception. This conference and book launch is more of a celebration of the evolution and the potential of developing a human rights based approach to social care in Scotland. It provides the forum to showcase human rights in action across a range of areas of social care including work with children, women , disabled people and those affected by Alzheimers. We are also very fortunate to have Professor Alan Miller provide the keynote presentation.

Human rights requires leadership. In Scotland we have strong and positive cross party political support for the human rights agenda. However this is not enough, we need to strengthen our citizen leadership. For people to exercise their rights they need to know about them. The aim of the conference and the book is to raise awareness of the potential of adopting a human rights based approach to social care.

We hope you can join us on the day but if not please follow us on social media using the hashtag #rightsintopractice.


A Curious Grapevine

Human rights are our rights by the very nature of our being human. They link us together in our common humanity. They provide, through international human rights conventions and domestic laws, agreements about how we should live together and treat each other based upon respect for human dignity.

Someone once said to me “I knew I had rights but I didn’t know they were the same as other peoples”. Unless people know their rights, they cannot exercise them. They cannot draw on their connective power.

It was this idea that informed the writing of the book Human Rights and Social Care Putting Rights into Practice. I wanted to explore the transformative potential for adopting a human rights based approach to social care. The PANEL principles of Participation, Accountabilty, Non-discrimination, Equality and Empowerment and Legality provide a steely core upon which the work of C-Change Scotland is based.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the Chair of the inaugural United Nations Commission on Human Rights, expressed a desire that a “curious grapevine” would carry the idea of human rights into every corner of the world. The hope is that this book adds one small branch to that ever expanding “curious grapevine”.

Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice (Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care) is available now via

Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice


I have written a book Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice (Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care), which was published last month.

The book draws inspiration from the following famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote.

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood (s)he lives in; the school or college (s)he attends; the factory, farm, or office where (s)he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger ).[1]

I have taken the audacious liberty of slightly amending the quote (in brackets) to address the gender-specific nature of the original statement. The book aims to act as a counter balance to the notion of human rights, and human rights law, as the preserve of lawyers, court rooms and judges. This is not to say that the legal profession and the court of law are not important in the realisation of human rights. They are, and careful attention has been paid in each chapter to significant case law that has contributed to the development of human rights jurisprudence.

The focus of the book is, however, on the universality of human rights and the role of the citizen in manifesting and bringing these rights to life, in the living breathing reality of our day-to-day lives. Its aim is to contribute to a growing understanding of the power and potential of human rights in the many different roles citizens fulfil daily, as family members, as colleagues, as those in receipt of additional support and as professionals working in the field of social care. Human rights are, if understood, owned and exercised, a set of shared values and aspirations that form a common lexicon of oneness in our humanity, that transcends age, gender, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. In that, they can be the source of great inspiration, power and solidarity and act as a catalyst for meaningful progressive social change.

HumanRightsAndSocialCareA formal launch of the book is planned for late August and I will talk more about this as we near the date.

Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice (Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care) is available now via



[1] Excerpt from a speech at the presentation of ‘In Your Hands: A Guide for Community Action for the Tenth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, Thursday, 27 March 1958, United Nations, New York. As head of the Human Rights Commission, she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she submitted to the UN General Assembly with these words: ‘We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.’