EHRC calls for government to close ‘legal loophole’ on home care


A legal loophole is depriving hundreds of thousands of older people who receive care in their own homes of protection under the Human Rights Act, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

A report published by the EHRC this week has uncovered “serious, systemic threats to the basic human rights” of older people who receive home care.

They found some older people not being fed, left without access to food and water, or left by their care workers in soiled sheets and clothes, while in “numerous other instances” older people were ignored, confined to their home or bedroom, or put to bed in the early afternoon.

Close to Home: older people and human rights in home care has concluded that the poor treatment of many older people in their own homes is breaching their human rights, while there are “significant shortcomings” in the way care is commissioned by local authorities.

Among the protections offered by the Human Rights Act are respect for dignity and personal autonomy, and protection for family life and social relationships, from inhuman or degrading treatment and for the right to life.

But courts have made it clear that protection under the act is not available to people receiving state-funded home care from private and voluntary sector agencies, which together provide more than four-fifths of all home care, even though the act does now protect those in private and voluntary sector residential care.

The EHRC report warns that too many older people are unable to voice their concerns or be listened to about how they want to be supported, while a third of local authorities have cut back on home care spending, with another fifth planning to do so in the next year.

The EHRC also said some council telephone contact lines were breaking the law by screening out older people needing home care without passing them on for a full assessment of their needs.

Older people receive less money towards their care than younger people with similar support needs, and are offered a more limited range of services, says the report.

The EHRC called on the government, CQC and local authorities to work together to ensure abuse is detected more quickly and dealt with more effectively.

And it called for new guidance on human rights to be drawn up for both councils and older people themselves.

Baroness Greengross, an EHRC commissioner, said: “It is essential that care services respect people’s basic human rights.

“This is not about burdensome red tape, it is about protecting people from the kind of dehumanising treatment we have uncovered.

“The emphasis is on saving pennies rather than providing a service which will meet the very real needs of our grandparents, our parents, and eventually all of us.”

The EHRC report came as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced a new programme of inspections of 250 providers of home care.

The programme aims to develop new ways to inspect home care providers, which CQC hopes will include visiting people’s homes – with their permission – while they are receiving care.

CQC made it clear the new programme would not be restricted to services for older people, but would also target providers of services for working-age disabled people. Many of the services targeted will be those where concerns have been raised about poor care standards.

23 November 2011