Putting human rights at the heart of planning and commissioning

Putting human rights at the heart of planning and commissioning

There is now a wealth of evidence from individuals and organisations across Scotland of what needs to change in integration, including planning and commissioning. One of the things that I think needs to change – and which would have a transformational impact – is ensuring that equality and human rights are properly mainstreamed and embedded throughout. Unless this is done – and they become ‘must do’s’ rather than ‘nice to haves’ – there’s a strong chance that rights will remain simply words on a page. Change will not occur if there are other ‘must do’s’ that run counter to our human rights.


There are several ways to take a rights based approach to planning and commissioning.


Firstly, ensuring that all the people involved are properly informed and supported to understand what human rights are, and the duties they entail for public bodies. People who access and work in services are rights holders – they need to be able to name and claim their rights. Public bodies and those who deliver public services need to understand their obligations and be able to demonstrate how they have achieved them. There are many gaps in people’s understanding and awareness about rights, but this is starting to change. There are some learning materials on the NES TURAS platform and on the Scottish Government’s intranet for civil servants. There’s a SSSC Open Badge about the digital human rights principles.


Before the planning and commissioning process begins, it’s important that stakeholders carry out a robust human rights review. This means examining the facts of an issue through a human rights lens to determine how people’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled, and what changes should be included in the strategic plan and which services commissioned – for example the 9-step process advocated by SNAP 2 (Appendix 5).


People will be very aware of what an Equality Impact Assessment is. However, there’s a similar tool that also includes human rights – an Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment (EQHRIA), that has been used by some local authorities. Ensuring a thorough EQHRIA is carried out before the planning and commissioning process begins (not as an ‘afterthought’ or ‘bolt on’) will enable equality and rights requirements and considerations to be embedded into the policies, practices, procedures and priorities for strategic planning and commissioning.


Another helpful tool is the SHRC self assessment toolkit, based on the PANEL Principles. This helps assess both existing and planned work, and can identify priorities for improvement towards embedding a human rights based approach.


A further practical activity is to make sure that human rights standards and principles are explicitly and consistently referenced throughout all documentation, not just mentioned in passing at the beginning or included somewhere as a ‘value’ with no evidence of associated action or outcomes. The danger of not being explicit like this is that rights are meaningless words without any impact.


For example, strategic plans can cite the relevant articles of specific treaties, like article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (CRPD), which is about disabled people’s right to independent living, or article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which is about rights to just and favourable conditions of work.


Budgets are a key indicator of what is valued, therefore if rights are valued they should be in the budget. Unfortunately, there will continue to be a serious, ongoing disconnect between rights based policy ambitions in integration and financial decision-making unless more is done to align the two.


One way of making sure rights are in the budget is called taking a human rights budgeting approach to budgeting, which means distributing resources in a way that puts people first. It involves thinking through how people’s rights are impacted by the way that money is raised, allocated, and spent. Specifically, budget decisions should reflect human rights standards and the process of formulating, approving, executing, and auditing the budget should reflect human rights principles.


Finally, to ensure good accountability, rights have to be monitored, with transparent reporting. There is a fundamental need for robust, disaggregated equality and human rights data-gathering and analysis. Key human rights indicators and outcomes should be explicitly stated, and as the Scottish Human Rights Commission recommends, human rights indicators can be applied to structure, process and outcomes.



Lucy Mulvagh, Director of Policy, Research and Impact Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE)

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