The Lothian Independent Advocacy providers came together in August for a learning day.
Top of the agenda was a presentation from Mhairi Snowden of Human Rights Consortium Scotland.
Mhairi reminded us all that Independent Advocacy workers are human rights defenders. The purpose of Independent Advocacy is to redress power imbalances and enable people’s voices to be heard. When power is imbalanced it can lead to some people’s human rights being violated and their voices ignored. However, as Mhairi made clear, human rights are universal. This means that human rights are for everyone, not just those who have more power.
The presentation showed the ways in which the Human Rights Act 1998 establishes human rights in UK law. However, as Mhairi highlighted, the UK government wants to scrap this law and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Consortium Scotland argue that this will make it harder for people to claim their rights in the UK.
The law in Scotland
Mhairi also spoke about the way in which human rights laws are developing in Scotland. The Scottish Government announced the new Scottish Human Rights Bill in 2021. The Government has said that the bill will enhance human rights for women, disabled people and minority ethnic communities. The bill will also include economic, social and cultural rights. This could be the right to adequate food, clothing and housing. It will also include the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
These are important issues for CAPS as we work with people who have experience of mental health issues. One of the things that advocacy workers do is help people to raise their voices when trying to access the things they need in order to live. This may include accessing housing and benefits, for example. Individual Advocacy workers may attend meetings with the person they are working with when decisions are being made, to help them speak up.
Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)
The morning session also included a presentation from Suzanne Swinton, Chief Executive of Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA). Suzanne spoke about the priorities for SIAA members and about the SIAA strategic plan. She also spoke about the Scottish Mental Health Law Review and discussed whether current resources for Independent Advocacy are sufficient to meet the review’s recommendations. Members of the audience were keen to point out that there needs to be more resource made available if people are to fully claim their rights.
LGBT Audit Tool
Next up were volunteers from CAPS LGBTQI+ Collective Advocacy group and Mohasin Ahmed, the worker who facilitates the group. The group is made up of people with experience of mental health issues who identify as being part of the LGBTQI+ community. The group campaigns for change in the mental health system. The volunteers gave an introduction to the LGBT audit tool that the group has recently refreshed. The tool is aimed at service providers who want to make their services more inclusive of the LGBTQI+ community. The group worked in partnership with LGBT Health and Wellbeing in order to do this. One group member shared a personal story of the discrimination they had faced when accessing mental health services.