Coronavirus / Mental health and disability rights

The Government must stop playing fast and loose with disabled people’s lives

Posted by Charlie Whelton, Policy and Campaigns Assistant on 19 Jun 2020

The Government didn’t consult disabled people before lockdown and it didn’t listen when they spoke out. Now their rights are under threat.

New statistics released last week show that Covid-19 has left three quarters of disabled people worried about the effect the pandemic is having on their life. This should be of no surprise to anyone.

At the start of lockdown Liberty were just one of many voices warning that disabled people and those relying on social care had been missed by the coronavirus response. The Government didn’t consult disabled people before lockdown and it didn’t listen when they spoke out.

Since then we’ve seen safeguards stripped away just when they’re needed most.

The Coronavirus Act contained provisions allowing local authorities to reduce their social care duties to people under the Care Act, potentially leaving people without vital support. Overall, eight local councils triggered these ‘easements’, and while the number still operating is thankfully now down to one, it never should have been allowed in the first place.

Charities have reported do not resuscitate orders (DNRs) unlawfully put in place just because of the patient’s disability and without families being consulted. Learning Disability England said almost one-fifth of its members had reported DNRs being placed in medical records without consultation during March and April.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has found that young people in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and mental health hospitals are facing human rights abuses due to Covid, with visits stopped, inspections suspended, restraint and solitary confinement made more common, and people put at risk of infection.

There has even been a battle just to attain proper statistics of the number of disabled people dying from Covid-19. When statistics were finally released amid growing pressure and a legal case, they showed a 134% increase in deaths of people with learning difficulties compared to last year. Campaigners believe the true number may be even higher.

Throughout all of this, the Government has failed to seek the input of disabled people.

The announcement that the 2.2 million people who had been shielding could now leave home a full month earlier than expected was made at 11pm on a Saturday evening to come into force the Monday after. This major, sudden reversal was made without consultation with disabled people’s organisations, many of whom warned that it was putting disabled people in danger.

Likewise, the regulations mandating the wearing of masks on public transport were published just the day before coming into effect. While there are exemptions in the legislation for disabled people who are unable to wear masks, the quick turnaround leaves no time for dissemination and puts disabled people at risk of harassment from other passengers.

It appears that the Government’s lack of interest in disabled people’s input extends even to their own colleagues in Parliament. Original plans to deny shielding MPs a vote in the House of Commons were overturned after outcry, but they are still are not allowed to take place in debates. Considering that the Shadow Minister for Disabled People is among those shielding, this robs disabled people of their ability to hold the Government to account even more.

This must end now. It is time for the Government to stop playing fast and loose with disabled people’s lives and excluding them from decisions. It must:

  • Seek disabled people’s input and listen to what they say
  • Protect disabled people’s welfare and rights
  • Withdraw powers allowing councils to relax care rules
  • Implement the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ recommendations on the effect of coronavirus lockdown measures on young people who are detained.

For more detailed information and support on how the Government’s coronavirus response is affecting disabled people and those who rely on social care, go to these disabled people’s organisations: Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London and the National Survivor User Network (NSUN).

If you receive care services from your local council but have had your provision cut, please let us know to help us make sure the Government and councils protect everyone’s rights at this crucial time.

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