Gov’t Report: Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services

“Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services” is a new Government report that looks at how the pandemic has affected people with disabilities. We’ve published the introduction below, but you can read the full report on the Government’s website:

1 Introduction

1.The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect everyone; however, as data on the effects emerge, it has become increasingly clear that different groups of people, particularly those who already faced disadvantage, are being affected unequally. In June, we launched three sub-inquiries to look in more detail at key issues arising from our broader inquiry into the emerging unequal effects of the pandemic on people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act.1

This sub-inquiry and Reports

2.Disabled people who already faced substantial barriers to full participation in society, for example because services were inaccessible or they had additional health, care and support or special educational needs, have suffered a range of profoundly adverse effects, including disproportionate deaths with covid-19, and have had hard-won rights restricted or curtailed by emergency legislation.2 Our sub-inquiry, Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services, examined the effects of the pandemic on disabled people’s access to food, health and social care and education for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). We also considered the effectiveness and accessibility of the Government’s engagement and communications with disabled people during the pandemic.

3.We received written evidence from disabled people and their representative organisations, specialist lawyers and academics, and heard oral evidence from the national, pan-disability charity Disability Rights UK, Mencap, Action on Hearing Loss (now RNID), the Centre for Mental Health, the NHS, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the Care Quality Commission, the Local Government Association, the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Ministers and officials from the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work in the Department for Work and Pensions. Witnesses are listed in full at the end of this Report. We thank everyone who contributed. We are also very grateful for the insightful advice of our Specialist Adviser for this sub-inquiry, Catherine Casserley, equality and discrimination barrister at Cloisters Chambers.

4.On 25 September, we published an interim Report on temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act, particularly its Care Act, Mental Health Act and some of its Children and Families Act provisions, which restricted or temporarily curtailed disabled people’s rights. The primary aim of our interim Report was to inform Members of Parliament ahead of the first six-monthly debate and vote on the continuation of the Act’s temporary provisions, which took place on 30 September. We welcome the Government’s decision to discontinue the Coronavirus Act’s Mental Health Act provisions, which potentially relaxed requirements for sectioning, against the grain of overdue and much-needed reforms, and which thankfully proved to be unnecessary in England. We will continue to push for progress towards implementation of our recommendations on Care Act and Children and Families Act provisions and guidance.

5.This is our full Report, in which we consider disabled people’s broader experience of the pandemic. It considers efforts by the Government and the food retail sector to ensure disabled people maintain access to food (chapter 2); disabled people’s experiences of health and social care services (chapter 3); and access to education, focusing on meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND (chapter 4). We examine the effectiveness and accessibility of the Government’s engagement and communications with disabled people in chapter 5. We conclude in chapter 6 by setting out data showing the tragic and starkly disproportionate effects of covid-19 on disabled people, and make the case for a discrete, independent inquiry into the causes, including the decisions and policies of the Government and public authorities.

6.We fully acknowledge that decision makers and service providers continue to operate in extremely challenging circumstances. Misjudgements may have been inevitable as the full implications of an unprecedented crisis unfolded. We do not question the intentions of those making difficult decisions, nor seek to apportion blame. Whilst this Report looks back at the lived experiences of disabled people since March, its conclusions and recommendations look forward in a spirit of learning and improving.

7.To date we have been disappointed, across each of our sub-inquiries into the unequal effects of the pandemic, with the Government’s attention to equality issues. The Coronavirus Act, which was fast-tracked into statute in March, had clear and obvious adverse effects on disabled people’s rights. Yet the Equality Impact Assessment of that legislation was not published until 28 July (despite repeated calls from this Committee and the Equality and Human Rights Commission), nor was it comprehensive. Our primary intention is to find ways to improve the experiences and outcomes of disabled people by more effectively embedding disability equality considerations, and the active voices of disabled people, into decisions and policymaking during the remainder of this pandemic, and as we return to more normal times.