The equality and human rights watchdog has warned that social care is at “crisis point” and has called on the government to introduce a legal right to independent living, just 24 hours after Boris Johnson failed again to honour his promise to fix the system.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said yesterday (Wednesday) in a new briefing paper that many disabled people were being left “without the vital support they need to live independently” as part of their community.
It warned that, since the first of a succession of Tory-led governments came to power in 2010, “rising demand and substantial reductions in government funding have led to increased levels of unmet need”, with real-terms council spending on social care in England about £400 million lower in 2018-19 than in 2010-11.
And it said the pandemic had “pushed the already struggling adult social care sector to crisis point, posing a significant threat to the right to independent living”.
As Disability News Service revealed last month, the commission is set to use its powers to examine how the social care system can “better uphold human rights and equality” through the system of assessing needs and making decisions on social care packages.
The EHRC paper was published just a day after the prime minister was heavily criticised for failing to include clear proposals to reform social care in the Queen’s speech.
Successive Tory governments have been promising to bring forward proposals to reform social care for at least four years.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “unforgivable that there is no clear plan to fix social care”, adding: “Failure to act for a decade was bad enough, but failure to act after the pandemic is nothing short of an insult to the whole nation.”
Rather than promising legislation, this week’s Queen’s speech said only: “Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.”
Background notes later published by Number 10 said the proposals would be brought forward this year.
But just a day later, the EHRC briefing paper criticised the government across a range of areas linked to independent living in England.
Among the areas in which it calls for action are the unfair detention and treatment of people with learning difficulties and autistic people, inclusive education, social security, accessible housing and accessible transport.
But its key proposals for change focus on the need for “effective legal protection” for disabled people’s right to independent living under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The EHRC paper includes a new legal model for how it believes a right to independent living could be incorporated into UK law.
A key element of the model would be a new duty on public bodies such as local councils to assess the level of unmet need for housing in the community, and for care and support that would enable community or home living, and to “report on what they will do to meet that need”.
The government would have to report on the level of unmet need and what it would do to ensure those needs were met.
There would also be a new duty on councils and other public bodies to provide housing and care and support in the community, unless the disabled person wanted to live in residential care.
There would also be effective enforcement mechanisms to “help ensure the right to independent living is upheld in practice”; a ban on building new institutional accommodation; and a new duty on public bodies to “act with the objective of meeting the requirements” of article 19.
The Department of Health and Social Care had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to a request to comment on the briefing paper.
Picture: Boris Johnson debating the Queen’s speech this week
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