Human rights are back in the news. Last week’s cabinet reshuffle opened the door to plans for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights. A poll by YouGov over the weekend found that Conservative and UKIP voters are sceptical even about the very existence of universal human rights.
But the story we’re hearing closer to home, outside the Westminster bubble, is completely different. People up and down the UK are using human rights protections to challenge unfair decisions. These stories don’t make the headlines, and you won’t have heard of them. But for these people, human rights are usually their last hope, the one chance they have to get the care they need, fight the school or hospital closure, challenge the unfair decision or arbitrary rule change.
It is true that about a quarter of people in the UK are really sceptical about human rights. This latest YouGov polling suggests that they are the voters the Tories and UKIP are fighting over. But we also know that the same number of people are very supportive of human rights, and even more are undecided. And it is this big group of people who are not convinced either way that are being completely ignored in the current debates about human rights. When they hear true stories about human rights, they realise how important they are.
So, when people hear about Jan’s experience of fighting for enough care to give her time out of bed and be a human being, they know human rights are important. When people hear about Nick’s experience of being stopped and searched over 30 times, even though he is a serving policeman, they see that crude assumptions about people are an infringement of their human rights. When we think about how Hughes was held in an adult police cell, and what he must have experienced, we can see that being able to challenge the way the police treat our children is really important.
These are the stories which aren’t being heard, because they are ordinary, local and often mundane to everyone except the people they affect. Glenise and Dennis have used human rights to challenge their local council’s new parking rules which have been written with no thought to the impact they will have on older or disabled residents. This is life and death stuff to Glenise and Dennis, but not a problem most politicians are likely to face anytime soon.
Human rights mean that we: mothers, fathers, workers, carers, patients, children, people who’ve been abused, ignored, forgotten or overlooked – every one of us – can hold the state to account. We can challenge decisions which make our lives even harder and can force institutions to see us as human beings.
Maybe we won’t know what we had ‘til it’s gone. We now need to start talking about what we have, telling everyone why any plans which put the Human Rights Act at risk are one of the biggest dangers we face.