The government is to abandon measures that ran “a coach and horses” through the right to social care during the pandemic, but similar restrictions imposed on disabled young people’s right to education are set to remain.
The measures were all part of the government’s emergency Coronavirus Act, which became law a year ago today, on 25 March 2020, and will remain in place for at least two years from March 2020, unless suspended or repealed by ministers.
The act is due to be reviewed and voted on in parliament today (Thursday).
Last week, more than 20 disabled people’s organisations wrote to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (pictured, above, left) to ask him to suspend the so-called “Care Act easements”.
These measures have allowed councils to suspend their legal duty to carry out detailed assessments of disabled people’s care and support needs, and their legal duty to meet all eligible care and support needs.
Ministers said earlier this week that they wanted to end the Care Act easements, which were used temporarily by just eight local authorities, and not by any council since last June.
Other Coronavirus Act powers, that could have been used to reduce the number of doctors’ opinions needed to detain someone under the Mental Health Act from two to one and to extend legal time limits on the detention of mental health patients, were scrapped last September.
In a review of the Coronavirus Act, published this week, the government set out 15 further measures which it hopes parliament will vote to scrap because they are “no longer essential to the national response to COVID-19”.
Although these 15 measures include the Care Act easements, there is no mention in the review document (PDF) or a government press release of measures – also introduced through the Coronavirus Act – that have provided powers to restrict disabled children’s rights to education over the last year.
These measures gave the education secretary the power to amend parts of the Children and Families Act (CFA) 2014 so that a local council only had to use “reasonable endeavours” to provide the education, health and social care needs named in a disabled pupil’s education health and care (EHC) plan.
They also gave the education secretary the power to amend CFA so that a school would no longer have a duty to admit a disabled child if that school was named in the child’s EHC plan.
Disability News Service has been told that education secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured, above, right) wants to keep these education powers as an “important contingency”, even though the government has decided it no longer needs the Care Act easements.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) has now written to Williamson to ask him to remove the CFA powers from the act.
Simone Aspis (pictured, above, centre), ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said yesterday that the government’s decision to keep the education powers but scrap the Care Act easements was “absolutely inconsistent”, and she called on Williamson to “do the right thing and remove the CFA easements immediately”.
She said: “There should be a parity of esteem between upholding disabled adults’ rights and upholding the rights of disabled children and young people.”
Aspis said that some local authorities and schools had used the CFA easements last year when Williamson introduced them, but “some local authorities and schools are still acting as though those easements are still in place” even though they have not been switched on since last July.
She said the last year had been “dire” for many disabled children and young people and their families because they have not been receiving the support they need to access mainstream education, because of both the pandemic and the CFA easements.
She said: “We are hearing that whilst those measures are not being put in place, local authorities are still getting the message that they are able to depart from their duties by not arranging provision.
“It is very serious in terms of the impact. It could end up with more and more children being out of school, being denied access to education and falling behind in the progress they could be making, and not having the same opportunities.
“We could be finding ourselves with a lost generation of disabled people as a result of this.”
The Department for Education was asked why the CFA measures were not mentioned in the review of the Coronavirus Act, but it had refused to comment by noon today (Thursday).
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