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Upholding Human Rights during Covid-19

An overarching statement from BASW. Updated 24 June 2020

Social work is a human rights profession.

Social workers’ ethics and purpose is grounded in upholding human rights. This is no different during times of crisis. In fact, during complex and uncertain times it is vital to hold firm to universal human rights. The human rights approach provides a clear and robust framework for decision-making, even during emergencies.

The pandemic is exposing great inequality in impact and in human rights protection across the UK. The pressures arising from the pandemic and the difficulties in responding to these run the risk of undermining entitlements, reducing rights and removing safeguards. The starkest expressions of this are in the inequality of access to protection from abuse and neglect, access to treatment to sustain life, and the unequal and devastating death rates in our society.

Social workers need to be able to carry out their role to uphold and safeguard human rights during Covid-19 and always. BASW will continue to take a lead by supporting social workers, producing ethical and practice guidance, and working with sector leaders to enable social work to uphold human rights.

We will continue to lobby alongside allies, particularly people with lived experience of social work, in the areas below.

This statement draws on our social work Code of Ethics to demand that:

  • People with lived experience and the social work profession are fully involved in any decisions about changes to rights and to services
  • There is a clear rationale to any changes to rights and entitlements
  • Any changes are a last resort and national redistribution of resource prevents postcode lotteries emerging
  • Any changes must be subject to the full range of impact assessments
  • Any changes are the minimum necessary and for the minimum period necessary
  • Any changes have clear accountability, democratic oversight and review
  • People who are affected have access to advocacy, legal support, and redress through complaints and challenges.

Where this does not happen, we expect national and local governments to amend their decisions.

We also demand that:

  • There is clear policy guidance for social workers from the Government and employees on carrying out any changes to duties, which can be tested against the BASW Code of Ethics and related documents
  • There is clear accountability by statutory organisations and government for changes, and individual social workers are not held responsible for mandated changes to their practice
  • Social workers have the equipment and support they need to carry out essential human rights duties safely
  • Social workers’ expertise in finding ways to creatively support people and uphold rights is encouraged by employers
  • National and local governments work with us to share learning and embed changes in practice.

And that:

  • There are full investigations into the inequality of impact and response during Covid-19.

There are some specific areas of urgent concern that BASW is working on:

  • Safe practice for social workers and other social care staff supporting people throughout the pandemic – BASW continues to lobby and campaign for safe conditions, equipment and resources
  • Inequalities in impact of Covid-19 on health and safety for social workers and the people they support - BASW provides advice and representation, and is working with employers to help minimise risk and meet diverse needs, particularly for people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds
  • ‘Blanket’ decisions with human rights implications - BASW will continue to challenge any decisions that do not respect human rights
  • Prevention of avoidable deaths in care homes and other social care settings – BASW has issued professional practice guidance on safeguarding adults, and will continue to lobby for urgent measures to reduce risk
  • Rights and wellbeing of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers - BASW has issued a position statement on No Recourse to Public Funds, and is campaigning for people in precarious situations
  • Changes to legal duties and safeguards - BASW is working with allies to preserve duties, challenge reductions in safeguards, and to uphold good practice in supporting children, adults and families
  • Ongoing impact on wellbeing from the pandemic - BASW has developed guidance on the role of social work in disasters, and will work to lead the learning, recovery, self-care and response needed as the pandemic continues.

We are continuing to monitor human rights issues through our survey, please respond 

Updated 24 June 2020

Changes made.  BASW first published an overarching statement on Upholding Human Rights during Covid-19 on 27 April 2020.  The statement published 24 June 2020 replaces this statement and is an updated version