This week the House of Commons and House Lords have been debating wide-ranging emergency measures which are needed or may potentially be required in the light of the coronavirus outbreak. On 25 March these measures became law in the form of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
Impact on social care provision
A significant area of concern for Muscular Dystrophy UK and other charities has been how social care provision will be affected.
We understand and share concerns about the potential long-term implications of the Coronavirus Act for disabled people, specifically the powers it grants to local authorities to suspend their duties under the Care Act 2014. Social care is an essential aspect of the support needed by many of the tens of thousands of people living with muscle-wasting conditions across the UK.
It is vital that local authorities continue to provide the care for people with muscle-wasting conditions to which they are currently entitled, which already in many cases does not go far enough.
Coronavirus will clearly place a huge strain on local authorities’ resources. We recognise that in order to help them manage these resources in the face of this unprecedented challenge they may need to take short-term action to allow them to focus on specific interventions to help manage the impact of the pandemic in their area. However, any changes made at the peak of the outbreak must only be temporary and for the shortest possible time.
We have been working with Officers of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Muscular Dystrophy and other Muscular Dystrophy UK parliamentary champions to seek clarification from Government that they expect local authorities to only use the powers available to them in the Bill when absolutely necessary and for as short a period as possible. We are also working with them to seek clarification about the threshold for the use of these powers and how local authorities will be accountable for when they resume their full obligations.
What was discussed in Parliament
Several MPs, including Ruth Jones, Catherine West and Munira Wilson, tried to seek assurances and clarification from Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, on these issues during the House of Commons debate. He responded:
The purpose of the social care measures in the Bill, which are very important, is to allow for the prioritisation of social care, should that be necessary. However, there are a number of restrictions on that, because local authorities will still be expected to do what they can to meet everyone’s needs during that period. While local authorities will be able to prioritise to ensure that they meet the most urgent and serious care needs, there are restrictions to require them to meet everyone’s needs and, indeed, to fulfil their human rights obligations to those in receipt of care.
The Bill contains powers allowing local authorities to prioritise the services they offer, as we discussed earlier in relation to social care, and that prioritisation, while challenging, is vital. The measures would only be activated in circumstances where staff numbers were severely depleted.
You can read what was said during the House of Commons debate on the Parliament website.
Muscular Dystrophy UK expects local authorities to undertake their duties as fully as possible during the coronavirus outbreak. We will strongly oppose any attempts to prolong emergency measures set out in the Coronavirus Act for longer than is necessary. We will also be monitoring the impact of new legislation on Education, Health and Care plans.
If you are affected by any actions taken by local authorities please contact Muscular Dystrophy UK’s advocacy team on 0800 652 6352 or at firstname.lastname@example.org