Socio-legal Perspectives

Paper 1: Squalor as a legal concept

Jeni Lee, Principal Solicitor, Seniors Rights Victoria

This paper explores the concept of squalor as a legal concept. Much of the literature presents an understanding of squalor as a condition of neglect by self and others to such an extent that individuals living in a condition of squalor live a life hidden from the main stream on the periphery and unheard.

There is much debate as to why individuals are found to be living is such conditions mostly undertaken by health care services seeking to find a model of care that offers hope of recovery. Much of the literature explores the link between mental illness and squalor and some with some sub groups having physical disabilities that prevent them from managing their own self care.

Social policy undertaken within a human rights framework ensures that the primary principal of intervening in an individual's life is respect for that individual's autonomy and self determination. This principal ensures the right of individual choice is paramount and places the responsibility on the individual to understand and accept the consequences of the choices they make. Another principal of equal importance is the right of individuals to live in the community free from exploitation and harm, this places the responsibility on the community to ensure that policies are developed to ensure that options to live free from harm are available. The right of respect of individual choice is only available to individuals who are able to make choices between a range of options available , marginalized and disenfranchised individuals are not able to exercise this right because if they lack options. We as a community are not to use the excuse that we respect the right of individuals to choose to live in a state of abject social neglect by the community.

When developing a social development model of intervention legal remedies have their place in any repertoire of multi team strategies. Legal remedies are found already in existing Acts such as the Mental Health Act, The Health Services Act and Local Government Regulations. The question is how and when to intervene. There may also need to be under the Guardianship Act a role for a legal intervener who has the legal right to intervene and enforce a strategy to achieve the desired outcome. This is a Court order that then takes the burden off the health care worker who is then able to proceed with a more long term strategy.