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25 September, 2020 Open access

Women and Equalities Committee accepts that suspension of Care Act duties to assess and meet care needs under Coronavirus Act may need to remain in place over the winter period

However, Committee also urges the government to suspend the easement immediately should it become clear that a second peak of the virus has been avoided

The Women and Equalities Committee has accepted that easements of Care Act 2014 duties to meet and assess care needs under the Coronavirus Act 2020 may need to remain in place over the winter period.

In its interim report on temporary Coronavirus Act provisions that affect disabled people (one of three linked inquiries on the impacts of COVID-19 on people with protected characteristics) the Committee considers, in particular, whether the Care Act easements under sections 15 to 17 of the Coronavirus Act - that replace local authority duties to assess and meet needs for care and support with a power to meet those needs in most cases - are or remain appropriate, as the parliamentary review date for provisions under the Act approaches.

NB - the government is required to arrange for a motion on the continuation of the temporary measures to be debated and voted on within seven sitting days of 25 September 2020.

While the Committee reports that only eight English local authorities triggered Care Act easements at some stage in the period from the end of March until July 2020 - Birmingham, Coventry, Derbyshire, Middlesbrough, Solihull, Staffordshire, Sunderland and Warwickshire - it expresses concern that -

‘We were unable properly to scrutinise the effects of Care Act easements on disabled people because there are no published data, for example on the number and categories of people, or the types of social care services, affected.’

In addition, while it notes the government's commitment to publish an initial assessment of the use of easements, the Committee urges that this data is provided before the forthcoming review and vote in the House of Commons, scheduled for 30 September 2020.

However, having considered whether there is currently sufficient evidence to make a case for repeal or extension of the easements, the Committee decides -

‘On balance, and subject to our other recommendations to tighten guidance and increase transparency being implemented, we accept that the Care Act easement provisions may need to remain in place over the winter period. The Government should keep the need for the Care Act easement provisions under constant review over the autumn and winter. It should use its power to suspend them immediately should it become clear that a second peak of the virus has been avoided. Should the progress of the pandemic remain stable or improve, we recommend the provisions be repealed before or at the second six-monthly review in Spring 2021. We recommend the Government state publicly that it intends to take this approach. This would provide greater clarity, and some reassurance, to disabled people and be an important marker of the Government’s determination to fully restore disabled people’s absolute rights to the care and support they need.’

Commenting on the report, Women and Equalities Committee chair Caroline Nokes said today -

“Restricting disabled people’s hard-won rights must not become the new normal. This pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for government but we must ensure that does not become a reason to turn the clock back on equality. The ‘take all or leave all’ binary vote will present MPs with no real choice over provisions which have clear and obvious equality impacts for their disabled constituents, and which they may believe are no longer justified - either now or over the two year lifetime of the Act. The government must demonstrate its commitment to equality by ensuring that any proposals which potentially restrict disabled people’s hard won rights are properly considered, and separately from the statutory vote.’

For more information, see Restrictions on disabled people’s rights must not become the new normal from parliament.uk

Update (25 January 2021): the government's response to the Committee's interim report includes assurances, in relation to Care Act 2014 easements, that it expects local authorities to only use easements when absolutely necessary and, that it will regularly review coronavirus-related changes to Care Act duties and existing guidance.