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2004 Conference Archive
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Human rights, professional practice and social care: the findings of a small scale research study

Kathryn Ellis, Department of Applied Social Studies, University of Luton

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Rights to social care in England have traditionally been highly restricted. By placing positive obligations on social care agencies and practitioners to make provision for older and disabled people, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998 promises to extend their reach. Yet transforming a set of largely procedural rights into something more substantive requires the active intervention of social care practitioners. This paper will examine the fit between human rights and the contemporary policy and operational contexts of social care before exploring the views of social workers included in a recent interview study. Whilst the findings point to a willingness on the part of some to advocate on behalf of older and disabled people, they also highlight the extent to which individualistic beliefs about dependency and responsibility reinforce the dominant construction of citizenship rights under the current New Labour government as contingent upon the fulfilment of responsibilities. Insofar as treating the Human Rights Act as a weapon of litigation may simply reinforce defensive practice, progressive change may be best supported by fostering a human rights culture in social care which depends, in turn, upon challenging social workers' assumptions about the nature of dependency, responsibility and rights.

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