Coronavirus: Social care fears for vulnerable people over emergency bill
Reporter: Mari Eccles
Date published: 25 March 2020
The Coronavirus bill means councils no longer have to assess and meet the care needs of elderly and disabled people – unless they are required to under human rights laws
The government’s emergency measures to tackle coronavirus could leave vulnerable people without necessary care, lawyers, MPs and campaigners have warned.
They say that the coronavirus bill – which was passed through the House of Commons last night – will remove local authorities’ duty to provide social care for people who need it.
The bill means councils no longer have to assess and meet the care needs of elderly and disabled people – unless they are required to under human rights laws.
The social care clauses are aimed at allowing local authorities to prioritise the care of those that are considered to be most at risk if the impact of coronavirus was to leave staff shortages in the sector.
But lawyers argue that the high bar could leave many disabled people, the elderly and people with mental health problems without care.
Kaylee Dandy, a lawyer with Law Stop who is based in Greater Manchester, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it would leave local authorities with some ‘tough decisions’.
She said: “I understand the pressures that are going to be on local authorities. In Italy’s hospitals, they’re making life-and-death decisions. Local authorities are going to be faced with some tough situations. But it’s taking away people’s rights… it really frightens me.”
Even under the existing system, lawyers are having to fight councils to get appropriate care for people, she argued.
She said: “They have a legal duty to do those things and legal aid lawyers are fighting day in, day out to fulfil those duties.”
Legal advice charity Cascaidr said the bill is a ‘recipe for turning social care into a dogfight for resources’.
And charity Disability Rights UK said: “Given the already broken social care system this bill will almost inevitably leave many thousands of disabled people without essential support or any rights to request this support. Rolling back our rights is not good for anyone and in the current circumstances will put many lives at risk.”
Schedule 11 of the new bill – which was discussed yesterday as part of the government’s efforts to tackle the spread of coronavirus – suspend the duties of local authorities to assess the needs of adults, adult carers and disabled children, unless they are required to by the European Convention on Human Rights.
It also removes the current requirement to prepare or review care and support plans for adults and carers, and suspends the duty to provide continuity of care when a person moves between local authority areas.
According to the government, the changes to the Care Act 2014 would only be triggered if the spread of coronavirus was such that the Secretary of State considered local authorities to be at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties under the Care Act 2014.
“We expect LAs, working with providers, to do everything possible to maintain services over the coming period,” the government bill states.
“However, during the peak, adult social care services will face surging demand and reduced capacity arising from higher rates of staff absence.
"This may make it impossible for LAs to continue to deliver at current service levels, or undertake the detailed assessments they would usually provide.
“In such circumstances it is crucial that LAs should be able to prioritise care in order to protect life and reach rapid decisions over the provision of care without undertaking full Care Act compliant assessments.”
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