Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are calling for urgent support to prevent the government “bulldozing” through parliament a “potentially dangerous” bill that will affect the lives and welfare of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.
DPOs including Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy) say they are “deeply unhappy” about the flawed mental capacity (amendment) bill, which began its committee stage in the House of Commons this week.
They say the bill will significantly weaken existing rights, and that it will not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The bill will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), to replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), that will apply to service-users who are said to need to have restrictions placed on their liberty as part of their care but are considered to be unable to consent to those arrangements.
This week, the public bill committee began line-by-line consideration of the draft legislation, and it will report to MPs with its conclusions ahead of the next stage of the bill.
But Inclusion London, People First and self-advocacy organisations they have been consulting with have major concerns about the bill, even though peers and ministers have ensured some improvements during its passage through the House of Lords.
Among the self-advocacy groups that have joined Inclusion London and People First in raising concerns are Inclusion Barnet, SpeakEasy NOW, North Somerset People First, Wiltshire People First, Bromley Speaking Up Group, Lewisham Speaking Up, Brighton and Hove Speak Out, and Portsmouth Self Advocacy Group.
People with learning difficulties have told Inclusion London and People First that health and care professionals who already have control over their lives would be given even greater powers by the bill.
Inclusion London and People First want to ensure that the bill only deprives disabled people of their liberty as a last resort.
They also point to significant conflicts of interest in the bill, and they say this could force disabled people to live in care homes or to accept physical and medical restraint just because it is easier or cheaper for a local council or service-provider.
They say the bill also fails to ensure the necessary rights to advocacy for everyone facing the possibility of having their liberty restricted; and does not do enough to ensure such cases can be reviewed by a court or tribunal.
Svetlana Kotova, coordinator of Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project, said: “Last week the government introduced new amendments to the bill, which will water down the duty to inform people about their rights and introduce a deeply flawed definition of deprivation of liberty, which will exclude many cases from liberty protection safeguards, which will mean that professionals will be able to impose restrictions on them without any checks.”
Previously the bill required that individuals were given information about their rights at the beginning of the process, she said, but the government has now said this should happen only after authorisation for a deprivation of liberty has been granted.
Kotova said this would be too late and would come at a point when the only way of redress would be a court hearing.
She said: “The minister said yesterday (Tuesday) that their goal is to design a simple system which has a person at the centre.
“But this is just words. All government’s amendments, the speed of the bill, their resistance to good suggestions put forward by the opposition, the lack of accessible information and their unwillingness to consult and hear from deaf and disabled people’s organisations indicates to us that despite the rhetoric about a person’s rights, the purpose of the bill is to save money by making life easier for care professionals, local authorities and hospitals, including independent hospitals, at a cost of people’s right to liberty.
“If they wanted to put a person at the centre, they would not take deliberate actions to weaken the rights people already have.”
Inclusion London and People First also believe the government has breached the Equality Act by failing to produce the bill in an easy read format, which would allow those people most likely to be affected by the legislation to understand it.
And they are angry at the government’s repeated failure to consult properly on the bill with DPOs, particularly self-advocacy groups, even though it will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has previously admitted in a freedom of information response to Inclusion London that it failed to consult any organisations led by disabled people while drawing up the bill.
Instead, it resorted to discussions with big charities like Mencap and Sense, which are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Inclusion London and People First believe progress on the bill should be halted immediately until there has been proper consultation with disabled people and until the government provides information about the bill in accessible formats.
An Inclusion London spokesperson said this week: “We don’t know why the government are choosing to rush through such an incredibly important human rights bill.
“This leaves little time for people who will be affected by the bill to contribute. This is a shocking state of affairs.
“The government needs to pause the mental capacity (amendment) bill and get it right, starting by engaging directly with disabled people.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “The current system for keeping vulnerable people safe is unworkable, with 125,000 people waiting for legal protections, and we cannot let them down by pausing the bill.
“Our urgently needed reforms are based on the Law Commission’s three years of consultation with the third sector and disabled people’s organisations.
“The department is committed to listening to the views of those affected and has engaged directly with individuals with dementia and learning disabilities and their carers, and has met with representatives from user-led groups.
“An easy-read version of the bill is being produced and will be published shortly.”
Nearly 150,000 people have now signed a petition drawn up by Inclusion London that calls for major changes to the bill.
The call for evidence to be submitted to the public bill committee was only issued on 19 December, and the deadline is expected to be next Thursday (24 January), or even earlier.
Inclusion London and People First are now calling on disabled people and allies to express their concerns about the bill on social media, using the #mentalcapacitybill hashtag; email the public bill committee by 24 January at the latest; and write to their MP, using a template letter drawn up by Inclusion London, which will be posted on its website.
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