What happened to the ‘ethical vision’?

George Wilson, 83, is dreading the move from his care home,
Delamere House in Merseyside. The dementia unit is owned by
Southern Cross Healthcare, which operates 130 care homes in the UK
and is suffering large financial losses.

St Helens Council has refused to pay more to the company, a
reaction typical of a nationwide crisis. This time, the families of
residents of Delaware House have used the law. They have argued
that the “life-threatening” move breaches the European Convention
on Human Rights and that the council should increase payments to
Southern Cross.

Last week in the High Court, Mr Justice Silber ruled there was
“totally inadequate” evidence that rendering the residents homeless
infringed their human rights.

His judgement is a double blow. First, if successful, it would have
provided a precedent that would have saved other homes. Second, it
is an indictment of the conservative way in which the Human Rights
Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000, is so often
interpreted in the courts.

Francesca Klug, director of the Human Rights Act Research Unit has
argued that this, our first bill of rights, gives an opportunity in
amoral times, “to infuse a distinct ethical vision into life in the
UK”. In the Appeal Court, Judge Stephen Sedley has said that it has
the potential to create “a common sense of equity, an ethic of
kindness” which distinguishes justice from law.

The residents of Delamere House – one elderly woman who died during
the court battle had been moved four times in 10 years – are losing
more than a roof over their heads, disturbing enough as that is for
people of any age. They are crucially forfeiting a world in which
they have both a sense of safety and a voice that is heard – surely
the most basic of human rights in a democracy.

In a study published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation two years
ago, Kate Allen explored how people with dementia in day, long-term
and residential care were encouraged to express their views – most
often by staff learning individuals’ non-verbal forms of

This “language” is highly individualised and, as Allen’s study
reports, takes a care worker time to understand. But the result is
not only highly rewarding; it is also vital to the rights of the
individual who continues to be a citizen whether they are nine or

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