SWU opposes replacing Human Rights Act with “Bill of Rights”

Human rights are not red tape that can be cut through at the Government’s convenience

The new Bill of Rights is difficult to understand and decipher without a law degree, indeed it would give Rumpole of the Bailey a run for his money! In the run-up to publishing this Bill, the 118-page Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill of Rights consultation did not mention the public interest, and it is still not clear who the proposals will benefit. However, what is easy to see is that the changes brought about by this new “Bill of Rights” contradict the ethics, values, and principles of social work.

The Social Workers Union (SWU) agrees with the British Association of Social Worker’s assessment that if the Bill is passed these legislative proposals will roll back human rights rather than uphold them, including removing ‘positive obligations’ on the state to proactively ensure human rights are upheld. As trade unionists and social workers we cannot settle for legislation that would unabashedly offer us less rights and protection.

This Bill of Rights seeks to replace the Human Rights Act which is frequently and consistently referred to by social workers. Look no further than the Care Act and Mental Capacity Act assessments, safeguarding of adults including those with disabilities and severe mental health problems, specific children’s legislation including children who are ‘looked after’, the adoption processes, asylum-seeking, and safeguarding of children – all of this legislation is underpinned by human rights and the Human Rights Act. 

If passed the Bill of Rights will take its place among the Policing Act, the Nationality and Borders Act, and the Public Order Bill as another in a series of rushed and oppressive bills that are systematically eroding our rights and shutting down avenues of Government accountability. On the front line, social workers are well aware of the impact these bills are already having upon the families and individuals using social services – including the GRT community and migrants and asylum seekers. Article 39 points out that the Bill of Rights will make it even harder for breaches of children’s human rights to be challenged, especially when children or their parents were born outside the UK or have broken the law.

It is troubling that the Government is framing human rights as unnecessary bureaucracy and implying that they are not in line with “common sense”. Human Rights Watch highlighted that this Bill aims to distinguish between people deserving of their human rights and people that the Government thinks don’t deserve them, and to mischaracterize human rights law as “red tape” rather than a protective mechanism. This dilution of rights and protection would be a large step backwards and speaks to a Dickensian view that there are ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.