Marie Casey CEO speaks about redressing the power balance
It was shocking and distressing to hear David Dimbleby pose the question: ‘Do poor people have to die before their voices are heard?’ on Question time. In this day and age, despite being involved with advocacy for nearly 25 years, it was such a stark reminder of the inequality that still exists in our country and the cost of that inequality.
As advocates we support vulnerable people to have their voices heard when decisions are being made about their health and social care services. These are people who, for all sorts of reasons, are not able to speak for themselves perhaps because they lack the confidence to challenge those in power, they don’t understand the bureaucracy they are facing or don’t have the words to make their case. For many the right to an advocate is enshrined in law. Advocacy is about redressing the power balance.
From what I understand, the Grenfell Tower residents association did raise their concerns but these concerns weren’t listened to, weren’t acted on. Why? It appears that they didn’t have the power to claim the attention of the decision makers. It is not only important that people’s voices are heard but that there is a system that recognises their right to be heard and recognises those who advocate for them—in this case the Grenfell Tower Action Group.
If Local Authorities commissioned independent advocacy services for anyone who needs support to have their voices heard, they would be sending a message that says, ‘we want to hear your views and we will ensure that you get the support you need to express them’. They would also have a system in place to respond to people and their advocates. At present, many traumatised residents are being rehoused—will they have the time to consider the options and the ability to influence the outcome? Advocacy isn’t the whole answer to David Dimbleby’s question, in fact, a civilised society should not need independent advocates to ensure that citizens have their rights upheld but there will always be those who have the least power to speak up and be counted. In the meantime, independent advocacy for all who need it would be a start.