Coronavirus / Mental health and disability rights

Liberty and disability charities warn councils not to weaken social care during coronavirus pandemic

Posted on 07 May 2020

  • Liberty and Disability Rights UK  ask councils to prove how they have assessed relaxing vital safeguards
  • Liberty lawyers warn councils could be acting unlawfully, leaving people without vital support, and putting even greater strain on the NHS
  • No evidence councils have carried out required consultation

Liberty, the human rights organisation, has warned eight councils that actions taken to relax social care rules during the coronavirus pandemic risk breaking the law.

Letters sent by Liberty lawyers to the councils – which include Birmingham and Sunderland – say people who are disabled and rely on social care could be left without vital support at a time when they have become even more vulnerable.

Disability Rights UK has also written to councils warning their actions risk adding to the stress and worry facing disabled people at an already difficult time.

Under Schedule 12 of the Coronavirus Act councils can trigger ‘easements’ which frees them from some of their duties to look after people under the Care Act.

Some of the easements allow councils to stop sending carers to visit people, and to stop assessing new needs which arise, or reassess the care people are given if their circumstances change.

But Liberty is concerned councils have not carried out the rigorous assessment and consultation required by the Government before easements can be triggered.

Any reduction in social care provision is likely to place even greater strain on the NHS. Yet none of the councils Liberty has reached out to appear to have met the Government requirement to consult with the local NHS leadership before deciding whether to operate the easements.

Councils’ actions set a dangerous precedent, Liberty has warned, and open the door to stripping back vital safeguards which protect disabled people, their carers and anyone who relies on social care.

Liberty has written to Warwickshire, Birmingham, Staffordshire, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Solihull, Derbyshire and Coventry.

Sam Grant, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “Councils’ actions not only risk being unlawful – if you are disabled or rely on social care they could leave you without the most basic support. The fallout of this will inevitably be even greater strain on the NHS, as people who depend on carers for things like food and help using the bathroom risk being left all but abandoned.

“We were concerned by these easements when the coronavirus legislation was introduced because time and again, those at the margins feel the sharpest end of a crisis. What we weren’t anticipating was the eagerness of some councils to trigger them without full assessment and consultation.

“Councils’ actions pave the way for vital safeguards to be stripped away just when people have become even more vulnerable. As a bare minimum councils must immediately demonstrate they have met the high standards set by the Government before they begin relaxing care rules.

“The Government and local councils should be working to shore up – not weaken – support for disabled people, their carers and those who rely on social care during this pandemic. We need to come through this crisis the right way – with all of our rights intact.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK said: “We appreciate there are significant resource challenges for local authorities, against a backdrop of cuts over the last 10 years. But the pandemic, and changes to services, are having a massive impact. Calls to our helpline show disabled people are anxious and worried, with some losing social care services which support them in their day to day lives.

“The government needs to make sure disabled people don’t become even harder hit because of the pandemic, and that councils have the money to deliver services which help disabled people stay independent.”

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