The government is facing growing pressure to scrap “wholly unacceptable” and “discriminatory” emergency powers that have allowed public bodies to suspend disabled people’s rights during the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 60 disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and their allies this week signed a statement that called on the government to restore rights suspended in March by the Coronavirus Act.
They point out in the statement that “no other minority group other than disabled people” has had its “minority-specific rights” removed under the act.
Among the emergency powers are the so-called “Care Act easements”, which allow 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.
The government’s new adult social care winter plan makes it clear that local authorities must continue to use the powers if they need to do so over the next few months, although they should only be used “when absolutely necessary”.
Pressure on the government to think again is mounting, with MPs set to review the Coronavirus Act powers on Wednesday (30 September).
But the winter plan says the government’s two joint chief social workers for adults in England have already advised that the Care Act easements should remain in place through the winter to “ensure local authorities are able to meet the most urgent and acute needs”.
The winter plan was released just days after two crossbench disabled peers – Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson – called on health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to scrap the Care Act easements.
Polling carried out by YouGov for the civil liberties organisation Liberty – which supports this week’s statement – found two thirds (67 per cent) of the public think it is “unacceptable” that councils have been able to reduce people’s care during the pandemic.
The Coronavirus Act also weakens the rights of disabled children and young people to education and support, and allows the removal of basic legal safeguards that protect people within the mental health system.
The statement says the measures in the Coronavirus Act are “wholly unacceptable” and are causing disabled people “disadvantage and discrimination”, and putting “our mental and physical health and our lives at risk”.
Their statement came as new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that disabled people made up three-fifths (59 per cent) of deaths linked to coronavirus in England and Wales between 2 March and 14 July (see separate story).
The statement says these figures show the “lethal and disproportionate impact” the pandemic has had on disabled people.
It has been signed by a swathe of influential disabled people’s organisations, including Disability Rights UK (DR UK), The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Inclusion London, the National Survivor User Network and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of DR UK, said: “Throughout the pandemic we have heard horror stories from disabled people who have had their care cut as a result of easements to the Care Act under the Coronavirus Act.
“The learning curve on what has worked and what hasn’t in these changing times has been steep.
“But what we have learnt is this: people suffer too much when the Care Act is not fully in place.
“Two thirds of the population stand with us in saying this: care should not be cut.
“We are calling on the government to restore all aspects of the Care Act before winter kicks in.
“We need the means for our health, our independence, and our human rights to be front and centre of our lives again, now.”
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice at Inclusion London, said: “The coronavirus pandemic had, and continues to have, a devastating impact on disabled people with many fearing for their lives and feeling abandoned, forgotten and ignored.
“For many of us, the situation did not improve after the lockdown was lifted and we are being further marginalised and isolated.
“Disabled people’s needs and rights were not considered when decisions were made during the pandemic; quite the opposite: the government was quick to diminish our already limited rights. This is totally unacceptable.
“With this campaign, which is led by disabled people and our organisations and supported by many others, we urge the government to rethink its policy and show its commitment to upholding disabled people’s rights.
“If the government truly believes in equality for disabled people, it should use the opportunity of the Coronavirus Act review to restore our rights and show disabled people that we are valued equally.”
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said the special educational needs (SEN) aspects of the Coronavirus Act had been an “absolute disaster”.
ALLFIE wants parliament to permanently remove the SEN parts of the act.
She said there had been a “total disregard” for those disabled students who found the online learning provided during lockdown inaccessible.
Earlier this month, ALLFIE published the results of a survey of disabled students, their parents and education practitioners, carried out in April, to discover the emerging effects of the pandemic.
More than half (54 per cent) of parents said they had not received any support from either the local authority or their disabled child’s school to help with home schooling during the period when schools were closed.
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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