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Radio Ombudsman: Human rights challenges and opportunities

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Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

My latest guest on Radio Ombudsman is Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Rebecca is a hugely experienced public sector leader and is regarded as one of the top 100 lawyers in the UK.

Ambition and a strong sense of duty

Rebecca was brought up with a strong sense of duty to her community and the value of human rights. As an Anglo-Jew whose family members lived through the period of the Holocaust, Rebecca has a particular understanding of what can happen when the human rights framework completely falls away.

Human rights became the focus of her career early on, when Rebecca entered the legal profession after university with the ambition of helping others. Her ambitions were realised, not in a corporate environment, but in a community one as Rebecca became involved in charity, education and public policy. 

Human rights challenges and opportunities

Our conversation covered three areas where current trends and changes in our world are set to have an impact on citizens’ human rights.

Firstly, we talked about the huge mandate EHRC has across equality and human rights, against the backdrop of a steadily diminishing budget. Rebecca shared their organisational strategy for making the greatest impact with fewer resources. 

Secondly, we discussed the obstacles that prevent society in the UK from becoming fairer, highlighted in EHRC’s 2018 ‘Is Britain fairer?’ report. Rebecca explained how she prioritises work to tackle these inequalities and uphold human rights.

Thirdly, Rebecca spoke about the impact of Brexit with a rare clarity. She explained that, while there is the possibility of losing some regulation, there is also the chance to make changes for the better.

Working in partnership to protect human rights

Many ombuds in Europe and around the world have jurisdiction over human rights. I want this to be a key feature of our new strategic plan from 2020 onwards and I asked Rebecca if she thought this would be a good idea. 


I was encouraged by her positive response:

"It’s a very excellent idea… our relationship with... regulators, inspectorates and the ombudsman is absolutely central to how we work, and it’s about sharing, understanding and expertise.”

I look forward to a closer co-operation between our organisations and hope this will also result in a more robust defence of human rights in our work.

Career advice

I asked Rebecca what advice she would give to young people coming into the ombuds profession, drawing on her wealth of experience of dealing with human rights issues. She said:

“I think it’s never been more important…to work in the sort of field that you're working in, in terms of looking at making services better, getting better outcomes for people and looking at embedding human rights at the heart of public service delivery.”

Rebecca also encouraged young people to keep aiming high and apply for jobs that they have the potential to grow into. It’s clear that throughout her career, this tactic has worked for Rebecca and she has relished pushing herself to fulfil her potential.

Listen to the podcast

I really enjoyed our fascinating and broad ranging discussion and encourage you to listen to the podcast below.

You can also read the transcript for this podcast or download a pdf [159KB]