Care services minister Ivan Lewis appears to have gone further than the existing government line in backing the extension of human rights legislation to all residents of private care homes.
Lewis told the parliamentary joint committee on human rights on Monday that there were “clear gaps in terms of protection for people in private providers and self-funders”, in an evidence session for the committee’s inquiry into the human rights of older people in healthcare.
The courts have thus far interpreted the Human Rights Act 1998 as covering public bodies only, excluding all care home residents in private provision – the vast majority – whether funded by councils or themselves.
The government’s position has been that coverage should be extended to all publicly-funded residents but not self-funders.
Campaigners and government are both relying on a current House of Lords test case, on whether the eviction of a publicly-funded resident from an independent care home would breach her human rights, though this is unlikely to affect self-funders.
Lewis said the current interpretation of the law was “not acceptable because it was not an intended consequence of government or legislators to leave people out of the system”.
He said human rights principles were “absolutely central” to the government’s approach to social care and its emphasis on fairness, respect, equality and autonomy and suggested there should be more focus on the rights of older people.
But when questioned by committee chair and Labour MP Andrew Dismore about whether he would back Dismore’s private members’ bill which would ensure all publicly-funded services would be covered by the act, Lewis said it was a matter for other parts of government. Dismore’s bill would not cover self-funders.
Lewis also told the committee that the “Berlin Wall” between health and social care and was being dismantled but had not yet been destroyed. And he ruled out, at least in the short term, the idea of introducing a statutory duty on care staff to report abuse of older people, saying the issue was already covered by registration rules.