The joint committee on human rights said it was “disappointed” that the government had not taken the opportunity through its care bill to provide “a free-standing right to independent living that could be directly enforceable by individuals in domestic law”.
The right to independent living is enshrined in article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the last Labour government ratified.
In its new human rights scrutiny of the care bill – published this week – the committee calls on the government to give “concrete effect in UK law” to a right to independent living, through an amendment to the bill, which is currently on its Commons committee stage.
In its report, the committee welcomes the bill’s new duties on local authorities to make enquiries where they reasonably suspect that an adult is at risk of neglect or abuse, and to set up a safeguarding adults board.
The report also provides backing for the disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low, who has pledged to reintroduce his amendment to the care bill – when it returns to the Lords – which would ensure protection under the Human Rights Act for all service-users of organisations regulated by the care watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
Coalition MPs succeeded in throwing out his amendment last week.
Although the joint committee on human rights calls on the government to use the bill to “urgently” fill the gaps in human rights protection for all those receiving publicly-arranged care, it shies away from recommending similar protection – as called for by Lord Low and his supporters – for those who pay for and arrange their own care and support from private providers.
But it does say the government should assess how the stronger regulatory powers available to CQC since 2008 have led to more “human rights compatible care to all service-users”.
And it suggests that CQC considers forcing providers to include terms in private care contracts that oblige them to comply with the Human Rights Act.
Dr Hywel Francis, the committee’s Labour chair, said: “The Human Rights Act currently does not protect hundreds of thousands of people who are receiving care which has been publicly arranged or paid for, including care provided in people’s own home and in some cases in residential care homes.
“The care bill which is currently before parliament should be amended to ensure that this gap in protection is urgently filled.”
He added: “The bill is also a missed opportunity to legislate for a free-standing statutory right to independent living.
“The government should use the report stage of the bill in the Commons to introduce an amendment to provide for such a free-standing, enforceable right.”
30 January 2014