The Women and Equality Committee has published its interim report on the Coronavirus Act 2020’s provisions relating specifically to disabled people. The Committee is being advised on this sub inquiry by Catherine Casserley of Cloisters, and the report can be found here https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/2710/documents/27010/default/

The Committee’s overall conclusion is that these provisions in the Act, and their implementation, could substantially curtail important and hard-won rights that disabled people rely on for their quality of life. It expresses concern that they must not become new norms, setting back disabled people’s rights by many years.

The interim report focuses on 3 areas: Care Act easement provisions, Mental Health Act provisions and Education

Under the Care Act 2014, local authorities have duties to assess and meet care and support needs that meet certain criteria. Where local authorities’ resources are severely affected by the pandemic, the Coronavirus Act enables local authorities to replace the duties to asses and review with a power; and the duty to meet needs with   a duty to do so only where failure would be a breach of an individual’s human rights. In some cases this is a would be a greatly reduced level of support. The Committee recommends keeping the provisions under review and repealing as soon as the pandemic becomes stable or improves.

Temporary Mental Health Act provisions

The Coronavirus Act allows applications for temporary detention under the Mental Health Act (sectioning) to be made by a single doctor, and extends some time limits, for example the time someone can be detained awaiting medical assessment from 72 hrs to 120, and removing the 12 week time limit on remand to hospital. The Committee recommends that, if the government does not repeal the provisions, it should at least suspend them.

Education, Health and Care Plan duties to young people with SEND

Parents of children, and young people aged 16-25, with special educational needs or disabilities, have a right to request their local authority carry out an assessment of their child’s (or their own, if aged 16-25) education, health and care needs (Children and Families Act 2014). Where these met the threshold, local authorities have a duty to secure a package of integrated support known as the Education Health and Care Plan within 20 weeks. The Coronavirus Act gives the Government the power to modify this absolute duty to one of “reasonable endeavours” and this was done, though the relevant Direction has now ended. Regulations also temporarily suspended the time limits for the preparation of EHCPs. The report urges the government not to implement the “reasonable endeavours” provisions other than on a local basis and to provide clearer guidance.

The report also looks at the statutory arrangements for the six month reviews of the Coronavirus Act, arguing that the “take all or leave all” approach to continuing the provisions is unsatisfactory.

A more detailed report on disability and the Covid implications will be prepared and published in the coming months.