Who is Advocacy for? By Sam Jackson 

Day 2 of #AAW20

Advocacy is for everyone. I think that is an important point to get across. If by advocacy we mean ‘having your voice heard’ then it seems obvious that this is one of the most basic of human rights. In fact it goes to the heart of what it means to be human. When we feel that someone is not listening to us, or is nodding away at what we are saying but not really ‘getting it’, well, we have all probably experienced that at some point in our lives and know that it can be the most frustrating and disempowering thing that can happen to us.

When we come up against people who have the power to make decisions about important things in our lives – teachers, the police, doctors and nurses, social workers, bosses or landlords – then we are in even greater need for ‘advocacy’. The balance of power is not in our favour and there is bigger risk of our voices not being heard.

So there is a special need for advocacy for those who are at risk of not being heard. Particularly if the rules, that put the balance of power in the favour of these decision-makers, are difficult to understand. For people with mental health needs, especially when they are in crisis, these ‘rules’ can have massive consequences – being ‘sectioned’. For people with learning disabilities decisions, both life-changing (where to live, to have relationships, or serious medical treatment) and seemingly trivial (what to wear, what to eat) are too often taken out of their hands completely. Similarly for people with other cognitive difficulties, such as brain injuries or dementia, with the distressing complication that these were decisions that they have been used to taking with no questions asked in the past.

So one way of answering the question – who is advocacy for – is to look at those who are at most risk of not having their voices heard. Another way is to look at the situations where someone, anyone, would be at risk if their voice is not heard. There has been some recognition of this in ‘the law’. The right to an advocate when detained under the Mental Health Act is an example. The recognition of the importance of an advocate when life-changing decisions are made on behalf of someone who is not able to make that informed decisions for themselves is another, the Mental Capacity Act. We also know that there are situations where legal advocacy (solicitors and barristers) is needed  - to make sure that your voice is heard in legal proceedings.

But there is also the need that all of us have for someone to speak up when we see an injustice, to stand up to bullies, to make sure that a racist or sexist comment is challenged. Or sometimes just someone to come with us when we are taking a faulty vacuum cleaner back to the shop for a refund.

So advocacy is for everyone. It is why we need to remember that the push towards statutory advocacy (the right, in law, for some people, in some circumstances, to have access to an advocate) has its roots in that simple human need for someone to speak up when they see that something is wrong and another person is being badly treated.