Disability Rights UK Newsletter – 19/3/21

Shielding to end from 1 April

More than 3.79 million clinically extremely vulnerable people in England are to be told they are no longer advised to shield from Thursday 1 April 2021.

People on the shielded patient list will be told they can begin to follow national restrictions alongside the rest of the population, but are still advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from COVID-19.

Letters to patients with updated guidance will be sent, starting from today, over the next two weeks, setting out practical steps people should take to reduce the risk of catching the virus, including continuing to maintain strict social distancing, to keep overall social contacts at low levels and to work from home if possible.

Over 90% of shielders – clinically extremely vulnerable people – have now had a first vaccination.

Local councils and supermarkets will continue to provide support for shielders until 31 March, with supermarket delivery slots continuing to be available until 21 June 2021.

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “The formal ending of the shielding programme will affect people in different ways. Some will feel relief that an end is in sight for the mental torture of enforced isolation, while others will feel that there is no real change, as they haven’t had any meaningful support for several months.

“There is also a small pool of people who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons who will now be left without any support, such as priority food deliveries after mid-June, and workers who may be called upon to return to work with no right to insist upon home working  .

“The government needs to provide clear information to this pool of people on how their health can continue to be safeguarded while society returns to some sort of normal.

“People who still feel anxious or need some level of support, should talk to their GP, local authority and local voluntary services.”

DPOs demand removal of Coronavirus Act easements

Disabled People’s Organisations from across the UK led by Inclusion London and Disability Rights UK have written an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for the suspension of easement powers for local authorities contained within the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act will be reviewed by Parliament next week.

The letter cites how evidence continues to mount about the lethal and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on Disabled people.

Disabled people have made up almost two thirds of all deaths. People of colour, including Disabled people of colour, have also been disproportionately impacted, facing higher risks and higher death rates from the virus.

The letter argues that the provisions in Schedule 12 of the Coronavirus Act diminish Disabled people’s rights to care and support and should be removed. Disabled people should have full Care Act rights restored.

Eight councils officially implemented easements for a limited period last spring and they have not been used by any councils since. Given the Government’s road map to recovery, there is no justification for retaining these powers.

Sections 92 and 93 of the Coronavirus Act allow for the easement powers granted to local authorities to be suspended by statutory instrument.

The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, has also written to health and social care and education Ministers urging swift action to remove the easements.

DR UK’s CEO Kamran Mallick said: “These easements still hang over the heads of Disabled people, adding anxiety and uncertainty to what has been a devastatingly hard year for so many of us. It is only right that as the Government steers the country into the recovery phase, that they are suspended, and that Councils are given the resources they need to provide adequate care and support for those who need it.”

Inclusion London CEO Tracey Lazard said: “Including the Care Act easements in the Coronavirus Act was a big mistake. This sent a clear message to disabled people that our rights and support can easily be removed. The pandemic has shown the government can find resources to make things happen, but unfortunately ensuring continuity of social care support for all disabled and people was not a priority. We heard many stories of people losing their social care support during the pandemic.

“The government must act now to make things right. The easements must be scrapped, the government must also recognise the importance of social care support for disabled people, ensure it is adequately funded and listen to our voices when developing proposals for social care reform.”

To read the letter and for more information visit the Disability Rights UK website.

Fears over right to protest under PCSC Bill

Fears have been raised about the impacts of sweeping changes to rights to protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which had its second reading in Parliament this week. The PCSC Bill seeks to make the first major changes to the Public Order Act 1986 since 2003.

Disabled campaigners fear it will remove the rights for people to undertake direct action – one of the main forms of protest which resulted in transport finally being made accessible, as Disabled campaigners handcuffed themselves to inaccessible trains and buses in the 1990s.

Section 59 of the Bill, which has been voted through in draft form by MPs, would see protesters who put people at risk of  “serious inconvenience” or “serious annoyance” facing jail terms of up to a decade.

There are also fears that people who present with non-neurotypical behaviours would face more threat of arrest, charge, conviction and imprisonment, with such behaviours often being misconstrued as acts of aggression, rather than non-neurotypicality, or anxiety, distress or stimming (which can include physical behaviours such as erratic movement).

DRUK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “In a 2018 case at the European Court of Human Rights (Alexei Navalny v Russia) the court said: “Freedom of assembly as enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects a demonstration that may annoy or cause offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote… Any measures interfering with freedom of assembly and expression other than in cases of incitement to violence or rejection of democratic principles – however shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used may appear to the authorities – do a disservice to democracy and often even endanger it.”

“The Bill as it stands is in direct opposition to the Convention, to which the UK signed up in 1950. The Minister for Policing told Parliament last summer that the right to peaceful protest “will never be curtailed by this government”. And yet this Bill has the potential to undermine fundamental freedoms and silence already marginalised voices.

“We would urge MPs to think twice about the place of protest in society, and how it can so often be a power for positive change where otherwise people would go unheard.”

Read the briefing on the Bill on the Good Law Project website.

COVID certification review – call for evidence

The government has launched a call for evidence for its COVID Status Certification review, in essence, vaccination passports.

The government is weighing up whether certification could and should play a role in reopening the economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety.

Certification would be available to both vaccinated people and to unvaccinated people who have been tested.

The government is looking to consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of a potential certification scheme, and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification. Disability Rights UK is preparing a response to this call for evidence. We would ask DPOs to contact us with their evidence, concerns and views no later than noon on Tuesday 23 March. Email us at tellus@disabilityrightsuk.org or call us on 0330 995 0400.

‘Blanket’ approaches to DNARs criticised in CQC report

The Government has announced the publication of the Care Quality Commission’s CQC report into the use of Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) decisions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The investigation was commissioned following concerns raised at the beginning of the pandemic around the use of ‘blanket’ DNARs (do not attempt resuscitation) decisions across groups of people, particularly people with learning disabilities and older disabled people in Care Homes.

The report identified 500 cases where DNACPR notices were placed incorrectly. It tells the stories of people who were denied the opportunity to discuss their DNACPR decisions, as well as families and carers who felt unable to support loved ones or challenge DNACPR decisions. This poor practice is completely unacceptable and the report calls for additional training, greater personalisation and better recording and monitoring of decisions.

The Government has pledged to tackle bad practice and will establish a Ministerial Oversight Group to drive progress on this critical issue.

Half of people with a learning disability and autistic people reluctant to provide feedback on care

New research from the CQC has revealed that people with a learning disability or autism are more reluctant to give negative feedback on their care in case it increases pressures on staff or services.

Debbie Ivanova, Deputy Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, said: “Listening to the lived experience of people with a learning disability and/or autistic people has to be at the centre of how we decide to regulate and improve care. It is so important to hear their voices and allow our approach to be shaped by this in order to properly address the challenges of closed cultures and inadequate care.

“Families and people with lived experience keep telling us that it’s so much harder to speak up in services that care for people with a learning disability or autistic people, and we’ve recognised this. The work I am leading will be about improving the way we can hear from people and making sure that their experiences drive the action we take.”

CQC research also showed that people with a learning disability and autistic people are more likely to accept health and social care providers offering a lower standard of care as a result of Coronavirus and that more than a quarter (27%) of survey respondents with learning disabilities and autistic people had noticed a lower standard of safety when accessing health and social care during the COVID-19 pandemic– more than double the average.

The CQC report Out of Sight – Who Cares? Released in October 2020, found that many people with a learning disability and or autistic people are still being looked after in unsuitable hospital environments, and some are subject to high levels of restrictive practice. People with a learning disability and autistic people should be cared for either in their own home, or in their communities, with as much choice as possible.

People can give feedback on their experiences of care, or those of someone they care for, on the CQC website or through their local Healthwatch. Local Healthwatch organisations can also help you with advice and information to access the support people need.

Boost to bus services

Disability Rights UK has long been pressing the government and operators to provide bus services which will enable disabled people to access day to day activities more easily. The launch of the new government bus strategy has important implications for disabled people which at last recognises that buses are a lifeline to employment, education, medical appointments and leisure, as well as being essential to the economy. The strategy highlights key issues that buses will be more frequent, cheaper, greener, and easier to use as government continues its levelling up agenda, and councils and operators will work in partnership for the benefit of passengers. It says that passengers across England will benefit from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better co-ordinated and cheaper integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, so people can easily move from bus to train.

The Department for Transport is also announcing the government’s ‘Rural mobility fund’, which enables on-demand services – such as minibuses booked via an app – to be trialled in areas where a traditional bus service isn’t appropriate.

Disability Rights UK’s Stephen Brookes said: “The proposals are a welcome step in the right direction in delivering improvements for passengers. However delivering the scale of change needed to get people out of their cars and on to fast, frequent, clean, affordable and accessible  public transport will require a long-term, sustainable funding model to drive investment in the years to come.”

Wheelchairs on planes – new prototype revealed

A Denver, Colorado firm has unveiled a prototype of a new airline seat that will allow wheelchair users to fly on airlines in their own wheelchairs.

Currently passengers in wheelchairs need to transfer from their wheelchair into a seating device to get down the narrow aisle and then transfer again into their airline seat. Read more.