A disabled shadow minister has called on the government to show that it has analysed how its strategy for recovering from the coronavirus pandemic will affect disabled people and other minority groups.
The government has failed so far to publish an equality impact assessment (EIA) of its recovery strategy, which itself was published earlier this month.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, said the coronavirus crisis had already “exposed and exacerbated economic, health and social inequalities” in society.
She said it was “vital” that disabled people, as well as other groups most at risk – including the BAME community and women – were protected in the government’s plans to ease lockdown.
This was why Labour was calling on the government to “urgently undertake and publish” an EIA of its strategy, she said.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also appears to be concerned about the government’s actions.
An EHRC spokesperson said: “We would expect equality to be considered in all areas of work, particularly this one.
“We have raised this point with government and await its response.”
An EIA is one of the ways in which a government department can fulfil its public sector equality duty to advance equality of opportunity between protected groups and those who do not share a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
The government’s recovery strategy, Our Plan to Rebuild, only mentions disabled people once across its 60 pages, although it does mention specific impairment groups such as people with learning difficulties (once) and autistic people (once).
Instead, it refers repeatedly to those who are most “vulnerable” to the virus and describes the measures it has taken to support them, including those who are currently advised to stay at home at all times.
It says the government is aware that “the challenge for those being asked to shield may deepen” when other members of society return to “aspects of their normal daily lives” and that it will “review the scale and scope of their needs and how the support programme can best meet these”.
The one mention of disabled people comes when the government pledges to ensure that disabled people “can have independent lives and are not marginalised”.
It says this will include “making sure that they can access public services”, considering their needs as the government “creates safe work environments” and reopens the transport system, and ensuring their “health outcomes do not suffer disproportionately”.
Earlier this month, at least 10 disabled MPs and peers signed a cross-party letter that called on the government to ensure that it improved its support for disabled people in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
They warned that what it did to “support, include and enable” disabled people would have “significant socio-economic and equality implications for years to come”, and they also called for an EIA of the government’s recovery plan.
Only last week, Disability News Service reported how disAbility Cornwall and Isles of Scilly had become the latest in a series of disabled people’s organisations to highlight how the pandemic had entrenched social isolation among disabled people.
Asked if the government had carried out an EIA on its coronavirus recovery strategy, a government spokesperson said: “The government always takes care to consider the equality impacts of policy decisions.”
Asked to clarify if it had carried out a written assessment and, if so, whether it would be published, the spokesperson declined to comment further, but pointed to comments made last month by Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities.
Truss said last month that there can be “a chilling effect on being frank in those assessments if they are then subsequently published” and that EIAs were “internal documents to help inform the government about how we operate”.
She added: “The more that those documents are published, the more difficult it is for people to be frank in those documents.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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