The government is refusing to release documents that would show the expected impact on disabled people of the legislation and policies it produced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, Disability News Service (DNS) asked the Cabinet Office to release the equality impact assessments (EIAs) it carried out on its Coronavirus Act and COVID-19 recovery strategy.
These would show how the government had expected the act and the strategy to affect disabled people and other groups protected under the Equality Act.
But in response to the freedom of information request, the Cabinet Office has now refused to release the two documents.
In its response, the Cabinet Office admitted that the assessments had been carried out.
It said there had been an “in depth and ongoing assessment” of the impact of the government’s COVID-19 policies, including on groups with protected characteristics, which it said had “informed decision making” and continued to do so.
But the Cabinet Office said it was exempt from its duty to release the information, under section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act, as to do so would “weaken Ministers’ ability to discuss controversial and sensitive topics free from premature public scrutiny”.
DNS has appealed the decision not to release the two EIAs.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has decided that face-to-face assessments for disability benefit claims will remain temporarily suspended.
A three-month suspension was introduced on 16 March, soon after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will be kept in place, DWP said on Monday, although this decision will be kept under review.
The suspension affects claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) and some of those on universal credit, as well as recipients of industrial injuries disablement benefit.
But DWP said it would write to some claimants to restart reviews, renewals and reassessments for PIP and disability living allowance (DLA) that had been put on hold because of the pandemic.
These will not involve face-to-face assessments.
Most of the disabled children in England who are currently considered “clinically extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19 will now be removed from the government’s shielding list, the Department of Health and Social Care announced this week.
The announcement follows evidence from The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) that shows the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 for children and young people was low and only those with “the most severe conditions” should now be considered “clinically extremely vulnerable”.
But no children will be removed from the list until the issue has been discussed with the child and their family by their GP or specialist doctor, who will be asked to contact them during the summer.
Dr Mike Linney, registrar at RCPCH, said: “It was right to be cautious when we knew so little about the virus, but we now have a lot of evidence to guide us.
“We can be confident that the vast majority of children and young people don’t need to shield.”
The autism research organisation Autistica has appointed what it believes is the first autistic person to head a major national UK charity.
Dr James Cusack (pictured), currently the charity’s director of science, will take over as its chief executive next month.
He said: “This pandemic has shown, once again, that autistic people don’t get the same access to rights that most people take for granted.
“To overcome the unacceptable inequalities that autistic people face, we must ensure we listen to the experiences of all autistic people and deliver transformative change based on the best evidence.”
Autistica says on its website that it is the UK’s leading autism research charity, supports “cutting edge research on autism and related conditions”, and works with autistic people “to understand their priorities for research”.
Among its current projects are developing tools for autistic people to deal with anxiety, improving diagnosis of autism in adults, and improving the treatment of anorexia in autistic women.
The disabled-led theatre company Graeae has secured a grant of more than a quarter of a million pounds for a project that will help Deaf and disabled children and young people break into the arts and develop skills and confidence.
The £260,400 grant from City Bridge Trust, which will be spread over five years, will support theatre groups for children aged between five and 11 and from 12 to 18, as well as a training programme that will help young disabled people between 17 and 30 develop careers in the creative industries.
Jodi-Alissa Bickerton, Graeae’s creative learning director, said: “This grant enables our work with young Deaf and disabled people to flourish – improving their wellbeing and supporting their ambitions – and supports us to continue creating pathways for a new wave of young arts leaders, who bring a wealth of lived experience to inform more welcoming and inclusive platforms for more young people across London.”
City Bridge Trust is the charitable funder for the City of London Corporation.
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