PROTECTING EVERYONE DURING THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

The Government’s pandemic response has left some people behind. It’s time for a fresh approach that prioritises support and human rights, so everyone is protected during this public health emergency.

When this pandemic hit, we needed a Government response that we could be confident would protect us.

But we got the Coronavirus Act.

Instead of hope and support, the Government has watered down our rights, plunged millions into extended lockdowns with confusing communications and prioritised punishment over support – hitting already marginalised communities hardest.

The Government’s pandemic response both oversteps the mark and under-delivers for those who need support most.

We’ve teamed up with expert charities, NGOs and lawyers to present a positive alternative: The Protect Everyone Bill.

The Government has said it wants to ‘build back better’. The Protect Everyone Bill is how we do so.

Ministers can show they are willing to do what is needed to keep us all safe, by adopting the support measures we have put forward.

And they must urgently commit to restoring our rights and freedoms as part of the roadmap out of the pandemic

We reject the politics of division and criminalisation and call for a new approach that bridges the divides in society. A pandemic response that fails some of us, fails all of us

Gracie Bradley, Interim Liberty Director

The Protect Everyone Bill: What we're calling for

Over the past year, the Government has drastically changed people’s lives at a moment’s notice with next to no scrutiny from Parliament, and has attempted to police its way out of a pandemic – with already over-policed communities bearing the brunt of unjust enforcement.

This strategy is unworkable.

Holding the powerful to account is crucial in times of crisis to make sure no one is left behind by narrow policy making.

And we need an approach that supports everyone to follow public health guidance instead of focusing on criminalising us.

The Protect Everyone Bill will safeguard everyone’s civil liberties.

  • Strict time limits – the Bill will expire after six months.
  • Real scrutiny – any lockdown regulations will be debated and voted on by Parliament before they become law.
  • No expansive police powers – the Bill prioritises supporting people to follow clear and consistent public health guidance, instead of criminal punishment. This is the best way to keep everyone safe.
  • Scrap power to detain potentially infectious people – the Government’s Coronavirus Act gives police the power to detain anyone who is “potentially infectious”. The Crown Prosecution Service has said every single charge brought under this power has been wrong. The Protect Everyone Bill will remove it.
  • Transparent enforcement – the National Police Chief’s Council must publish weekly enforcement data broken down by age, gender, ethnicity, and disability, as well as information about the location, context, and nature of the enforcement, so the public can see how powers are used.
  • Power to appeal fines – the Bill establishes a right to appeal any fine.
  • No protest ban – the Bill explicitly prohibits blanket bans on protest.
  • Limiting the power to close borders – the Bill limits the parts of the Coronavirus Act that allow the Health Secretary to close borders with no upper time limit. It imposes safeguards to ensure travel restrictions do not undermine people’s private and family life, right to seek asylum or ability to travel to provide humanitarian aid.

No one is protected unless we can all safely access health services.

Part of the Government’s pandemic approach has been to use our personal health data to track and monitor our movements.

Secrecy over who can access our data has stopped people from using healthcare services, including migrants whose details might be shared with the Home Office.

And the Government has recently granted police access to NHS Test and Trace data. Threats of arrest and deportation will stop people from getting a COVID-19 test, using Test and Trace, or accessing the vaccine.

The Protect Everyone Bill safeguards everyone’s privacy.

  • Protect privacy – the Information Commissioner’s Office must oversee the Government’s collection and use of personal data. Public authorities have a duty to protect people’s privacy.
  • Data protection policies – the Government must regularly publish data protection impact assessments for COVID-19 related data systems, including Track and Trace.
  • Delete data – data collected for contact tracing must only be used for that purpose and must be deleted after three months.

School pupil wearing face mask

The Coronavirus Act gives the Government broad powers, including ordering schools and childcare facilities to close. This may be necessary, but there are serious implications for children and families who need support, and children who can’t access online resources.

Education workers’ right to a safe working environment must also be protected.

And no child should go hungry, but the Government’s approach to Free School Meals has left many extremely vulnerable.

The Protect Everyone Bill will protect children’s rights, as well as the rights of their families, education staff and wider communities.

  • No hungry children – the Bill puts a duty on the Government to transfer cash to families for meals during school closures, or to fund local authorities to provide food parcels. It also requires the Government to provide Free School Meals during the school holidays.
  • No one left behind – the Government must publish a full human rights and equality impact assessment before ordering school closures to make sure the rights of the children, their families and school staff are protected.
  • Guidance on remote education – if the Government decides to close schools, it must publish statutory guidance on the provision of remote education, with specific attention given to every child’s right to an inclusive education.

Lady Justice

Transparency in the justice system is essential for a functioning democracy. But the coronavirus pandemic has put this at risk by changing the way our courts and tribunals system works.

The sudden shift to online hearings doesn’t always allow for effective participation. And people involved in non-remote hearings have expressed concerns over court safety.

The Protect Everyone Bill will defend access to justice.

  • Open justice and participation rights – the Government must publish a human rights impact assessment on the effect of remote proceedings on open justice, effective participation, and justice outcomes.
  • Research – the Government must collect and publish data on virtual hearings, to better inform future policymaking.

Bus driver wearing face mask

We all want to keep our loved ones safe but can only do this if we’re all properly supported to follow public health guidance. Some workers can’t afford to self-isolate or take time off when sick, and some have been forced to return to unsafe work environments by their employers.

The Protect Everyone Bill makes sure all workers can stay safe during this public health emergency.

  • Full pay for sick and isolating workers – the Bill requires the Government to guarantee full pay for all sick and self-isolating workers, including low-paid staff, outsourced staff, and staff on temporary and zero-hour contracts.
  • Guaranteed minimum earnings – the Government must raise the minimum wage to the Living Wage (and for workers in London, to the London Living Wage) which will ensure that workers are better able to meet their needs.
  • PPE and safety equipment – the Bill requires employers to provide safety equipment, including hand sanitiser and protective masks and gloves for workers in high-risk industries and workplaces.
  • Risk assessments – employers must carry out risk assessments on working conditions and issue health and safety guidelines for staff.
  • Inspections – labour inspection should be classified as “essential work,” and carried out with adequate protective equipment in high-risk sectors where workplaces remain open, to ensure workers are not being exploited.

No one is protected unless we are all protected. Only a strategy that provides support for everyone for the duration of the pandemic will work.

But the Government’s Coronavirus Act allows local authorities to strip back formal social care. A number of councils took advantage of this part of the Act, but others that didn’t do so explicitly have still diluted the level of care they provide, disproportionately impacting disabled and older people.

The Protect Everyone Bill will prioritise the most marginalised in society, making sure health and social care support for disabled and older people is maintained and enhanced.

  • Accessible info – the Bill will make sure public coronavirus broadcasts are fully accessible to disabled people, including by requiring sign language interpretation. News updates and regulations must be published with Easy Read versions.
  • Proper social care – the Bill will scrap the parts of the Coronavirus Act that allow local councils to strip back social care provision for adults, and EHC provision for children and young people

The Government’s hostile environment has remained in full effect.

People are too fearful to access healthcare in case their details are shared with the Home Office. And those that do are still being charged for NHS care.

Thousands of people still have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF), meaning they can’t receive any state aid to help with housing, food, or accessing safety if they escape an abusive relationship.

Asylum seekers are being held in overcrowded barracks.

And people are still locked up in prison-like immigration detention centres.

No one is protected unless we are all protected. The Protect Everyone Bill prioritises migrants’ rights.

  • No hostile environment – the Bill will suspend toxic hostile environment policies and enable people to rent, work, and access state services. It will also suspend all NHS charging.
  • Support for migrants – the Bill will suspend NRPF and require councils to provide essential support to migrants. Asylum seekers will be provided safe and secure accommodation and face-to-face reporting requirements will be suspended.
  • No data sharing for immigration enforcement – the Bill will establish a firewall between public authorities, the NHS, the police, and Home Office Immigration Enforcement.
  • No immigration detention – everyone held under immigration detention powers in detention centres and prisons will be released.
  • No deportations – the Bill will suspend all deportations for the duration of the pandemic.

It hasn’t been possible for everyone to “stay home” during the pandemic. Some people can’t afford to stay in, some don’t have a home, some live in overcrowded housing, and for some home is a dangerous place.

We can only keep each other safe if everyone – no matter wealth or background – is supported to safely follow public health guidance. The Protect Everyone Bill will make sure everyone has access to safe and secure accommodation for the duration of the pandemic.

  • No evictions – the Bill establishes a rent waiver and bans the giving of eviction notices for the duration of the pandemic, including for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
  • Safe accommodation – the Government will be required to provide safe and secure accommodation for everyone in need, including survivors of domestic abuse, homeless people and rough sleepers, migrants, and those in overcrowded housing.

A prison officer in Pentonville Prison

Only a coronavirus strategy that protects everyone, without exception, will work. The number of people in prison must be lowered to keep prisoners, detainees, frontline staff and the wider community safe.

Prisons are not equipped to deal with a pandemic, and some prisoners are being confined to their cells for more than 23 hours at a time.

The number of deaths in custody as a result of COVID-19 has soared as outbreaks continue to spread in different facilities.

The Protect Everyone Bill prioritises the most marginalised in society, and will save lives within prisons and young offender institutions.

  • Lower the prison population – the Bill requires the Government to immediately reduce the numbers of people in prisons and youth offender institutions across the UK, and to release prisoners who fall within the shielding category if they pose no risk to the public.
  • No destitution – the Government must make sure no one is released into destitution, including by increasing funding to community-based services, such as women’s centres, to cope with the pressures of the pandemic.

Mum wearing face mask carrying baby

With the pandemic has come an economic recession that threatens many people’s livelihoods. Everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living.

The Protect Everyone Bill will make sure everyone can meet their basic needs, including when they are required to self-isolate, helping us all safely follow public health guidance.

  • End Universal Credit wait – the Bill will end the five-week waiting period for Universal Credit so that people can urgently access support.
  • Increase all benefits – all benefits will be uplifted to match the increased Universal Credit level.

Someone putting a voting slip in a ballot box

The Coronavirus Act postponed the local, Policing and Crime Commissioner and mayoral elections that were due to be held in May 2020 for a year. Additional changes to the timing and “manner” of an election can also be made without Parliamentary involvement.

Holding power to account is even more important in times of crisis. The Protect Everyone Bill prioritises democratic oversight.

  • Human rights assessment – the Bill requires a human rights impact assessment be carried out before powers to postpone elections can be used.

Thank you to to our consultees:

Our rights-centred approach is supported by:

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