Position statement on the Coronavirus Act

Published: April 2020

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Disabled children and adults need special protection in a time of crisis

The last decade of ‘austerity economics’ has seen savage cuts to local authority funding to the extent that they have been unable to meet their legal obligations to provide the essential care and support needs of disabled people and carers. Only those in the most severe need are receiving support and for these people the support that they receive is – effectively – the bare minimum necessary to enable them to cope.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 further curtails the rights of disabled people and carers to social care support. In place of the duty to meet their essential social care needs, in England the 2020 Act substitutes a minimal obligation not to reduce their support to the extent that they suffer a violation of their most basic human rights.  It should be emphasised that, as a matter of law, it will be extremely difficult to establish a breach of human rights.  In Wales the reduction in support would only become unlawful if it placed the individual at risk of abuse or neglect.

Disabled people are at most risk of experiencing serious harm from coronavirus, being people with a high incidence of the ‘underlying conditions’ that make the virus so dangerous. In the circumstances, a rational response to the emergency would be to radically redress the care and support deficits of the past decade, rather than take the action that is mandated by the 2020 Act.

Such action is not only contrary to international law – constituting ‘regressive’ social care legislation targeting those least able to cope – but it also makes no strategic sense. Removing essential care will simply lead to more crises, more hospital admissions and more NHS staff having to take time off work to care for their disabled friends and relatives.  In the medium term it will also lead to more avoidable deaths.

The Disability Law Service expresses its profound concern about the inevitable adverse effects that the Act will have on disabled people and carers and the message it sends concerning the acceptability of their further marginalisation.

The Disability Law Service calls for:

    1. A radical review of the priorities of the English and Welsh Governments during this emergency with the object of ensuring that the care and support needs of disabled people and carers are fully safeguarded and funded during this period
    2. The provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 relating to the care and support of disabled people and carers to be withdrawn at the earliest possible opportunity
    3. The development of a transformative plan for social care to ensure there is a care and support service ‘fit for disabled people and carers’ at the end of this emergency – as universal, transformative and far sighted as the Beveridge reforms 85 years ago

Position Statement Signatories

Professor Luke Clements

Cerebra Professor of Law

University of Leeds

Patron of Disability Law Service

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Further reading

The Coronavirus Act 2020

Explanatory Notes to the Coronavirus Act 2020

Department of Health and Social Care, Impact Statement on the Coronavirus Bill (PDF) (Published 19 March 2020)

GOV.UK, Guidance – Responding to COVID-19: the ethical framework for adult social care (Published 19 March 2020)

Professor Luke Clement’s blog