Written evidence from the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (COV0207)
The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) is a membership organisation that has the overall aim of ensuring that independent advocacy is available to any vulnerable person in Scotland. Independent advocacy safeguards people who are marginalised and discriminated against or whom services find difficult to serve, empowering people who need a stronger voice by enabling them to express their own needs and make their own decisions.
SIAA welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the UK Parliament’s Human Rights Committee call for evidence on the human rights implications of the Government’s response to COVID-19. Our contribution draws on the experiences of our members and their expertise in supporting vulnerable people to have their voices heard in a range of situations relating to, for instance, mental health, education and social security.
Independent advocates are human rights defenders. They support people to understand and secure a range of human rights helping to make them meaningful in the real world. In addition, the values that underpin independent advocacy mesh with the PANEL principles of a human-rights based approach (Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Legality) because they:
Independent advocacy organisations are well-placed to play a pivotal role in supporting people through this time of crisis. They are trusted community organisations with excellent local links and there is independent advocacy provision in all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities.
1. What steps need to be taken to ensure that measures taken by the Government to address the COVID-19 pandemic are human rights compliant?
SIAA acknowledges that these are complex times presenting unprecedented challenges. Consequently, we recognised the need for the introduction of legislation to ensure certain safeguards to protect the right to life (Article 2 of the Human Rights Act). However, the emergency legislation is also having a negative impact on a number of other human rights which, during a time of crisis, are more important than ever and must be consciously protected, promoted and realised.
The pandemic presents an opportunity for the UK Government to go beyond ‘compliance’ and design explicitly human-rights based policy and supports – including both legislative and non-legislative activities – that will protect human rights for all and ensure that already marginalised people and groups are not left further behind.
Monitoring, evaluation and scrutiny
Human rights budgeting
Human rights impact assessments
2. What will the impact of specific measures taken by Government to address the COVID-19 pandemic be on human rights in the UK?
The impact on human rights: Evidence from the independent advocacy sector
During the course of lockdown, SIAA has been hosting regular, fortnightly video calls with our member organisations about the repercussions of Covid-19. In addition to providing a safe space for peer support, these calls also ensure that SIAA has up-to-date oversight, at a national level, of the issues facing independent advocacy organisations and the people that they support.
The impact of the pandemic - and the measures taken by both the UK and Scottish Governments to address it - on human rights has consistently been one of the key concerns raised by members over the last few months. The manager of one member organisation described the current situation as, ‘A human rights crisis as much as a health crisis’. Managers and independent advocacy workers have cited evidence of a range of human rights issues, including:
In addition to this evidence of the current, ongoing erosion of human rights, SIAA members are also very concerned that this ‘rolling back’ of human rights in a time of crisis becomes the new normal, such that hard-won human rights are subsequently not reinstated as they were pre-pandemic.
The role of independent advocacy in defending human rights
In order to respond to the significant impact of Covid-19 on human rights – both now and as we move from crisis to recovery – it is imperative that people continue to be informed of their rights, that they are supported to realise them and that there are accessible and robust mechanisms to provide redress when things go wrong.
People must be given the information they need to make good decisions and feel confident that their views and opinions will be considered in decisions that are made about them. However, in practice, many people will require significant support to make this a reality. They may need help in understanding the complexities of decisions that are being made about them, as well as in overcoming barriers to their participation such as power imbalances, lack of confidence and a history of feeling ignored and irrelevant in previous decision-making.
Independent advocacy has a pivotal role to play in this regard, now more than ever. Independent advocates are human rights defenders, experienced in identifying gaps between policy and practice and standing up to injustice. Independent advocacy also has a clear role to play in intervention and preventing people and situations from reaching a crisis point.
A key plank of the government’s response to Covid-19 must therefore be to ensure that people know about and have access to independent advocacy to support them through the pandemic. Concerted efforts must be made, for instance, to identify opportunities to promote awareness of and access to independent advocacy.
In addition, independent advocacy organisations require higher levels of secure, stable funding to ensure that they are able to respond effectively to the demands of the Covid-19 crisis. Our members have done an admirable job of flexing positively to the very testing circumstances of the pandemic, thus minimising the negative impacts on the marginalised people they support. However, even before the current crisis, many independent advocacy organisations in Scotland were struggling to balance reduced funding with an increased demand for their services. It is an unavoidable truth that inadequate funding leads to poorer outcomes for vulnerable people and groups who cannot be supported to know their rights, fight for their rights and/or seek redress when necessary. Our members are unequivocal on this matter. Increased funding would allow independent advocacy organisations to defend human rights and mitigate the negative impacts of the government’s Covid-19 measures on a greater scale.
Different types of independent advocacy
There are two different types of independent advocacy, both of which are relevant and useful within the context of supporting marginalised people and groups to understand and realise their human rights during the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information, see SIAA’s Principles, Standards and Code of Best Practice (2019) for independent advocacy.
1) Individual advocacy
There are a number of different types of individual advocacy, but it always involves a one-to-one relationship between an independent advocate and an advocacy partner (the person being supported). It can be provided by both paid and unpaid advocates. An advocate supports an individual to represent his/her own interests or represents the views of an individual if the person is unable to do so. Advocates provide support on specific issues and provide information, but not advice. This support can be short or long term.
Non-instructed advocacy is a specific type of individual advocacy that happens when there are issues with a person’s capacity perhaps resulting from limited communication due to a physical disability or a learning disability. In such situations, a non-instructed advocate seeks to uphold their advocacy partner’s rights and ensure that decisions are taken with full consideration of their unique preferences, rights and perspectives.
2) Collective advocacy
Collective advocacy creates spaces for people to get together, support each other to explore shared issues and find common ground. It supports people to speak up about their experiences, values and expectations. It enables people to find a stronger voice, to campaign and influence the agendas and decisions that shape and affect their lives. Collective advocacy can help planners, commissioners, service providers and researchers to know what is working well, where there are gaps in services and how best to target resources. It helps legislators and policy makers to create opportunities for people to challenge discrimination and inequality and helps people learn to become more active citizens. Collective advocacy groups benefit from skilled help from an independent advocacy organisation and with the support of resources.
3. Which groups will be disproportionately affected by measures taken by the Government to address the COVID-19 pandemic?
The current pandemic is hugely concerning for everyone - but it is increasingly clear that both the virus itself and the policies and practices put in place to mitigate its impact are experienced differently by different people. Although everyone has been significantly affected by many of the government’s new measures, people belonging to certain groups are disproportionately affected and at increased risk of having their human rights compromised.
SIAA members have reported particular concerns about the following groups:
In reality, of course, many people will belong to multiple ‘at risk’ groups and the government must make it an explicit focus to research and understand these ‘intersectional’ impacts and then to take targeted, bespoke action to protect those most at risk.
 The impact of COVID-19 on the public finances and the Fiscal Framework, Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, May 2020
 Human Rights Implications of the Coronavirus Bill: The risk of making vulnerable adults and children even more vulnerable, BIHR, March 2020
 ’Indepndent Children’s Rights Impact Assessment on the Response to Covid-19’, Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and Observatory of Children’s Humans Rights, July 2020
 Ibid, p4