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Baroness Campbell calls for human rights-busting Coronavirus powers to be switched off

29 September 2020

In a debate in the House of Lords yesterday, she said:

“My Lords: I will take this opportunity to repeat my urgent request that the Easement Powers in the Coronavirus Act be switched-off now, not extended further. I and 30 other Members across the House wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the other place, to make this request, after hearing many worrying accounts of highly vulnerable individuals losing care and support when it was most needed.

“Easement powers permit local authorities to reduce or withdraw care services normally protected by the Children and Families Act, the Mental Health Act, and the Care Act. They were only intended to be used, if local authorities were unable to comply with all of their legal duties, during the worst stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. And then, only if easement did not contravene individual human rights.

“After powers took effect on March 31st, eight councils officially implemented Easements and by July, they reported they had stopped. According to the Disability Rights UK’s latest joint statement with Liberty, 7 councils have since returned to using the powers.

“My Lords, there is mounting evidence that disabled children, adults and older people, are experiencing disproportionate stress and serious health risks, as a direct result of decreased care and support services, during this pandemic.

“A survey by MENCAP found that 7 out of 10 people with learning difficulties experienced a reduction in their support.

“Over 60 disability charities have reported that significant numbers of Disabled and older people, had their care cut to the point where they were unable to cope with basic daily human needs, eating, washing and using the bathroom. This cohort is at most risk, not just from the virus but lack of care and support. Grim data from the Office for National Statistics, bares this out when it recently concluded that Disabled people were twice as likely to die from Covid-19.

“I’m sure many noble lords watched the Panorama documentary, highlighting the plight of severely disabled children and their parents who were driven to breaking point, because their vital support services were put on hold or withdrawn altogether, in the name of the pandemic. I could give countless other examples, but time prevents.

“My Lords, the latest report by The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded “The Government must justify its reasoning for the continuation of the powers to trigger easements to social care provision, and they must only continue if absolutely necessary and proportionate”.

“I would argue that continuation of the easement powers is neither necessary nor proportionate. I am sure with an urgent review of the evidence, the government will see, that if it truly wants to protect its most vulnerable citizens, easement powers must cease. If not we are condemning them to another six months of misery.”