Providing Services

We often achieve our core purpose by providing services. This section sets out five ways to use equality and human rights to deliver better services.

You can also use these ideas when influencing public or private sector service providers – helping them improve services, or holding them to account.

Regularly review your services to make sure they’re meeting people’s actual needs.

Equality and human rights provide one lens for this review – what you’re doing, with and for whom, and with what results. They can help you think about if you’re doing the most important thing you could be doing. And if you’re doing it in the most effective way.


One:  Use analysis tools to review the accessibility, reach, quality and outcomes of your services. Or to identify unmet needs and new opportunities.  You can adapt these tools to be as light-touch and informal, or in-depth and formal, as your organisation needs.

Useful tools include:

  • PESTEL to identify current and emerging external factors relevant to the service being reviewed
  • SWOT to assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats relating to the service
  • Community and service user analysis
  • Gap analysis, for example, service need versus availability. Or where you are now, versus where you want to be – and the progress you need to make to get there.

Case Study:  Citizens Advice – an equality and human rights gap analysis


Your organisation understands the key equality and human rights opportunities for improving its services.


Issues, challenges and opportunities are identified and analysed.

Use human rights principles to review how services or client experiences can be improved, and/or define behaviours that create culture change and improve outcomes.


One:  Design a new service, or review an existing one. A simple way to use a human-rights based approach is to apply PANEL principles throughout your review and planning stages:

  • Participation – people should be involved in decisions that affect their rights
  • Accountability – there should be monitoring of how people’s rights are being affected, and remedies when things go wrong
  • Non-Discrimination and Equality – all forms of discrimination must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. People who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights should be prioritised.
  • Empowerment – everyone should understand their rights, and be fully supported to take part in developing policy and practices that affect their lives
  • Legality – approaches should be grounded in the legal rights that are set out in domestic and international laws.

Take a look at the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s guide to PANEL (pdf) for some examples of how organisations have used these principles in practice.

Two:  Improve outcomes by creating culture and behaviour changes.

Human rights can help drive practical culture and behavioural improvements. An example is the Macmillan Values Based Standard (pdf), which identifies eight behaviours based on applying human rights principles to the ‘moments that matter’ to patients. It sets out what those behaviours look like in practice for leaders and professionals. It gives vocational ‘nudge’ examples for each behaviour.

Case Study: Macmillan – a human rights-based approach to cancer care

Crucially, this standard isn’t focused on legal and procedural requirements. It does not take a punitive or compliance approach, as these can make people afraid to do the wrong thing.

Instead, it sets out what service users can expect, and what staff at all levels can do on a day-to-day basis to ensure that people’s human rights are protected. It is permissive in tone, and focuses on enabling staff to get the job done better.

Three: Tackle implicit bias in service provision

Implicit (or unconscious) bias is about attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious way. This can result in unfair or unequal treatment and outcomes.

Implicit bias theory is well-established. Here is a summary of the research.

It is used extensively by employers to improve recruitment and progression practices. It has been researched in a more limited way in service settings, for example in health services and education:

  • A study showed that as pediatricians’ pro-White implicit biases increased, they were more likely to prescribe painkillers for children who were White as opposed to Black. Implicit racial biases may help explain differential health care treatment, even for young people (Sabin & Greenwald, 2012).
  • Another study found that changing just one word to disrupt hetero-normative assumptions (ie suggest the applicant might be gay) led to students applying for college being considered to be ‘less of a fit’ for the college and for their work to be scrutinised more closely and critically.

It makes sense that implicit bias effects how services are designed and delivered, and contributes to the unequal outcomes that many people and communities experience.

Human rights based approaches include non-discrimination as a key aim. Building an understanding of implicit bias into a human rights based approach could improve service design, delivery, and outcomes.

This is an under-developed field in the UK.  It is worth the voluntary sector exploring and developing it – both for your own and public services.


Your services are more client-centred, people are treated with dignity and respect and as individuals whose specific needs are understood.

  • Improved client satisfaction
  • Improved service outcomes
  • A reduction in inequality of outcomes for specific groups or people
  • An increased volume of complaints, as clients feel more comfortable in speaking up for themselves. Handled openly, it provides valuable opportunities for engagement and ideas for further improvements.
  • Improved staff satisfaction and reduced absences.

Make sure staff and volunteers can use equality and human rights laws when dealing with public services. It helps get  better outcomes for your clients and service users.  This is important as:

  • Many voluntary organisations don’t know about the laws and standards and miss valuable opportunities to help clients claim their rights
  • Your staff and volunteers may assume that people working for public bodies already know and apply the law. In many cases, this isn’t true:  they may understand laws and procedures that relate to their area of activity, like transport or social care. But they often don’t know either how equality and human rights protections can help, or what their equality and human rights obligations are.

One:  Identify which equality and human rights laws are most applicable to your area of work. Think about one, two or three (at most) parts of the law that could help the largest number of your clients the most, or help those who are most disadvantaged.

Focus on building staff and volunteer awareness and confidence in that topic, rather than trying to cover everything. A working knowledge of the priorities is usually enough, along with concrete actions to take. Where you need more specialist help, contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service, your local Law Centre or Citizens Advice.

You can find practical examples of this throughout the framework. Four more that have a lot of potential are:

A:  Get separate or targeted services for those in most need.

Service providers often mistakenly believe that equality laws stop them from targeting services at, or providing separate services to, specific groups. As a result, they may cut or refuse to provide these services – even when this kind of service is much needed.

The Equality Act 2010 allows services to target or provide separate services to a particular group when there’s a good reason – if the group is disadvantaged or under-represented, for example, or has particular needs.

Example: Newcastle Leisure services developed late night badminton sessions targeting Asian men working in the restaurant sector. They were under-represented as service users compared to other men, and their working hours meant they could not take part in activities earlier in the day.

You can use this basic understanding of the Equality Act 2010 to educate a service provider about how the law applies – and show them that running separate or targeted services can actually help them meet their equality obligations. You can advocate for new services, or challenge proposed withdrawal of existing services.

B:  Make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

Service providers must remove barriers disabled people face so they can access and use their services, as far as is possible, like someone who’s not disabled. The Equality Act 2010 calls this the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Staff in many public services do not know about or apply this duty. For example, a man was sanctioned by Job Centre Plus for not applying for a job in a refrigerated environment. Staff were aware his disability meant he could not work in such environments, and should have made reasonable adjustments.

The duty is anticipatory – which means organisations should take steps in advance to make services accessible, and not just wait until someone tells them. For example, a GPs surgery might have a policy of reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities offering flexible appointments and extra time.

We can work with – and where necessary challenge – service providers to meet this duty.

Example: a shopping centre car park updated its entrance and exit system, making it inaccessible for disabled drivers who had relied on this parking to do their shopping. A local charity met with the car park operator, explained the problem and made the case for reasonable adjustments. The necessary changes were made.

C: Social services.

Social services staff will be aware of the Care Act 2014, but are far less likely to consider how the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 or Equality Act 2010 might apply to their responsibilities towards children, older, disabled, ethnic minority or LGBT people.

Example: a social worker finding a residential placement for a child will consider the local authority’s obligations under the Care Act, but may not consider the HRA and the right to family life. An organisation could use this right to challenge inappropriate or distant placements and get a better outcome for the child and their family.

D: Welfare benefits and employability.

Staff in DWP, Job Centre Plus and employment programmes are often unaware of how the Equality Act and Human Rights Act apply in welfare benefits and employability services. We have written an online handbook for information and advice providers who work with people on benefits. The downloadable quick guide contains lots of examples of the types of unfair treatment or harassment that your clients – pregnant women, older people, Gypsies and Travellers and others – may be experiencing. You can complain about these problems and get things changed.

Case Study:  Age UK and putting rights into practice

  • Clients’ needs are better met and their rights respected
  • Staff and volunteers are able to use key aspects of the law with confidence
  • Service providers apply the laws more effectively in ways that help clients.
  • Improved client outcomes
  • Increased client satisfaction
  • Increased staff and volunteer capacity and satisfaction
  • Improvements to service provision

Services that are designed and advertised as being for everyone are often not as accessible or inclusive in practice.

Think about different types of accessibility:

  • Physical – the locations, buildings, furniture and equipment you use as accessible to all affected groups
  • Communication – accessible content and medium
  • Cultural – not making culturally biased assumptions about other people’s needs, preferences and behaviour. And arranging your services so that no-one is excluded unintentionally due to cultural, language or religious factors
  • Social – understanding and tackling the the social factors that create barriers, such as lack of childcare and literacy
  • Economic – understanding and tackling the economic factors that create barriers, like financial deprivation and other related personal circumstances
  • Service – making sure people in your organisation welcome diversity. And that services are flexible and can be tailored to the specific needs (and choices) of members of affected groups.

One: assess the presence and participation among your service users of people from the priority groups you have identified. This can be done by:

  • Using monitoring data you already collect
  • Surveying the public and your service users (making sure they fully understand the purpose of the survey)
  • Talking with your service users, staff and volunteers.

Two: consult with and involve affected groups you don’t reach, or who are under-represented among your clients.

  • Ask why people aren’t using your service and what they think needs to change. Use the different types of accessibility to explore issues that might come up (but don’t use it directly with people, as it’s too theoretical).
  • Use the communication channels that members of these groups are most likely to use. For example, local radio, shops, places of worship, Deaf clubs, residents associations, Sure Start Centres. Contact women- and minority-owned small businesses.
  • Develop relationships with group representatives. Identify shared values and interests. Work with them to identify what the barriers are for their community, and how to remove them.
  • Consider working together on an issue or event to increase contact between your organisation and the community. Your staff could spend time shadowing and learning about them, and vice versa.
  • Avoid one-off, isolated events that expect people to come to you.
  • Allow time to build trust, and if it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying. Marginalised communities can, for very good reason, be wary or angry.

Three: make it clear that your organisation is inclusive.

  • Review your marketing materials, entrance and reception area. Do they meet disability access standards? Do images reflect the diversity of your users? Do you have a ‘Welcome’ sign in local languages? Do you say, visibly, that you are inclusive of LGBT people?
  • Take actions that support the concerns of groups you are trying to target. For example, take a public position on a local issue that is important to them.

Four: support your staff and volunteers to understand and meet needs.

  • Give them the knowledge, tools and motivation to act in a way that positively promotes equality and human rights-based service delivery. This needs to be something they can do every day. A lot of good and bad practice on equality and human rights happens as a result of daily decisions made by individuals – or of how they behave towards others.
  • Find out more about issues of power dynamics, structural inequalities and institutional discrimination.

Five: conduct a disability access audit.

Your buildings and premises. Access audits are a formal tool to identify and remove barriers for people with all types of disability and long term health conditions. You can use online guides, checklists (pdf) or accredited organisations to conduct you audit.

Websites and digital services. These should be inclusive of disabled and older people, and people who use adaptive technologies such as screen readers. You can use free online resources and charities like AbilityNet (who provide consultancy services) to help conduct your audit.

Six: take people’s multiple identities, or intersectionality, into account.

Organisations that focus on one aspect of their users’ identity or needs, can assess and take into account other aspects that are important when it comes to accessing services or claiming rights. For example a refugee organisation that has traditionally not considered LGBT issues, asks LGBT asylum seekers in their community about their priorities, and sets up a support group in a safe space. Partnering with or buying in training from a specialist group is a good way to identify both practical improvements and how to manage any sensitivities.

Case Study: Solace Women’s Aid and Ascent Partnership – accessible services (opens in Word).


People from disadvantaged or excluded communities get the services they need as of right.

  • Improved uptake of services by people and groups
  • Increased client satisfaction
  • Increased staff and volunteer capacity and satisfaction
  • Improved service provision

Treat service users as rights holders within your organisation.

Needs or welfare based approach Rights based approach
People need help People have a right to help
Needs are met by charity or concession Rights stem from our common humanity
Support is conditional or based on personal views and feelings Support is an obligation on Government or the provider. Positive approach to use of laws and good practice.
Support is a one-way relationship, perpetuating dependence Support is a two-way relationship, promoting empowerment
The outcome is more important than processes Processes – how you treat and include people – is as important

One:  promote the needs of your service users as rights, with a particular focus on any groups you have prioritised.

  • Talk with staff and volunteers about what makes a rights-based approach. Provide briefing materials or training.
  • Empower individual service users to assert their rights and hold your organisation to account. Establish an effective system for this.
  • Support service users to identify issues they might have with your services and steps that could address them.

Clients and service users are empowered participants in your organisation. 

  • Changes in the way staff and volunteers relate to clients and service users
  • Clients understand their rights and can assert them
  • Clients use the systems of accountability in your organisation.
Further Reading

AgeUK and Opening Doors, Safe to Be Me (pdf): Meeting the needs of older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people using health and social care services

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Improving Support for Black Disabled People (pdf)

Pears Foundation, Empowering More Young People to Play their Part (pdf)

Young Foundation, Engaging Men in Your Projects (pdf)

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