The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to launch an “invaluable” and “long-overdue” inquiry into whether the social care system breaches equality and human rights laws.
The formal statutory inquiry will examine the system of assessing needs and making decisions on social care packages, and how they uphold equality and human rights laws for those who need social care.
Brief details of the inquiry were published quietly by EHRC earlier this month, but apparently without alerting the media.
But documents obtained by Disability News Service through a freedom of information request suggest that the commission hopes the inquiry will help to embed equality and human rights, including the right to independent living, in social care policy and reform.
February’s health and social care white paper said the government would bring forward “proposals” for social care reform later this year, although it has been making such pledges since 2017.
Disabled people’s organisations this week welcomed the EHRC inquiry.
Professor Peter Beresford (pictured, above right), co-chair of the disabled people’s and service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the inquiry would be “invaluable” because “we know that we have few rights under existing Westminster social care policy”.
He contrasted the principles of needs- and means-testing in social care with the “essentially universalist” principles of the NHS.
He said: “Shaping Our Lives offers the warmest of welcomes to something so long overdue.
“The EHRC’s emphasis on embedding equality, human rights and independent living in social care policy reform is vital and sadly not to be found in most other social care policy discussions outside of those of disabled people themselves.”
He said he hoped the inquiry would lead to inspections of local authorities by the Care Quality Commission, which currently does not happen “despite the work of councils being the very nerve centre of the whole system”.
But he said such inspections would “only be a good thing if they inspect against the right standards”.
He added: “Councils have been getting away with practices at both the individual and strategic levels that fall way below human rights standards for years.
“Their part in the weakness and fragility of services as exposed by COVID has gone completely under the radar.
“This inquiry by the EHRC will be a good thing if it provides the basis for getting the right standards against which councils should be held to account.”
Kamran Mallick (pictured, above left), chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We welcome the inquiry into social care.
“We have grave concerns about recent reports that care plans are not covering disabled people’s needs, and that local authorities are increasing charges leaving disabled people with a pittance to live on.
“We hope the inquiry will focus on why local authorities are not fully implementing the Care Act.
“Disabled people need to be given the means to live full, productive, socially inclusive lives.
“Doing so is right for disabled people and good for our country.”
An EHRC spokesperson said the commission would publish terms of reference for the inquiry “in due course”.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson had declined by noon today (Thursday) to say whether the government believed the inquiry was necessary.
But she said in a statement: “The government continually ensure people who receive care get the support they need through the pandemic as set out in the Ethical Framework for Adult Social Care.
“With lessons learnt from the pandemic, the government’s health and social care bill will put in place targeted improvements for the delivery of health and social care to ensure it is fit for the future.
“Separate proposals on social care reform, due later this year, will set out further plans for a system.”
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