The Inquiry

On 19 March 2020 the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) announced that it will scrutinise the Government’s Covid-19 response. This includes legislation that the Government has brought forward to contain and control the Covid-19 outbreak, how those measures have been implemented and how the response could be differently affecting different groups of people. The Committee was accepting evidence about this until 22 July 2020. It is hearing oral evidence which is streamed on the parliament website. Find out more about the Inquiry here

The Committee has published a briefing paper which sets out: (1) the human rights implications of the outbreak and of the different sorts of measures that the government might be implementing in response; and (2) the legislative provision that already exists. Read the paper here and other evidence here.


The Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman MP, said:

"Times of national crisis call for strong and decisive leadership. However, at this time, it is also vitally important that checks and balances are in place to ensure that human rights are not disregarded, and that people remain fully protected under the law... The government needs to protect the right to life and at the same time consider the impact on human rights as it strives to protect the country in this unprecedented time."

BIHR's Evidence Submission

Throughout June and July, we were busy gathering evidence to submit to the JCHR inquiry through our Communities of Practice platform, surveys and our direct work across the UK. Our policy responses are directly informed by people’s real-life experiences of the issues, drawn from our work to support people to benefit from their human rights in their daily experiences. The evidence gathered through our work informs our main concerns and suggestions for the steps that need to be taken to ensure that measures taken by the Government to address the Covid-19 pandemic are human rights compliant.

To focus our work, we collected evidence from three groups we work with:

  1. People accessing (or trying to access) health and care;
  2. Staff working in health and care during Covid-19; and
  3. Advocates and campaigners

We have prepared an evidence submission for each of these groups, so that the Committee members have access to the direct experiences of all three groups when considering the Government’s response to Covid-19. You can read a summary of the key findings of our evidence here.

We have also produced written reports based on our evidence submissions. You can find out more about our reports below.

The full versions of the reports, submitted to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights are available here:

             

 

EASY READ versions available here.

       

The findings make for worrying reading, shining a spotlight on the realities of changes to law, policy and access to care and treatment for people with support needs. Almost 70% said their care and support had got worse during Covid-19, This was echoed by staff, with 82% telling us that it has been harder to uphold people’s human rights; over three quarters were not provided with clear training or information to uphold human rights during Covid-19, and almost 80% had no training or clear information about the legal changes under the Coronavirus Act.

The people who responded to our survey identified themselves as disabled or supporting/caring for a disabled person, most commonly citing learning disabilities, Autism, physical health issues or mental health issues. People’s care and support needs ranged from being met through support within their homes, in supported living, residential settings (e.g. care homes), and inpatient settings. 

 

Speaking about the release of research into the human rights impacts of the Government’s Covid-19 response, Sanchita Hosali, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights said:

 

“During Covid-19 we’ve heard the line “this virus does not discriminate” many times; our research shows that the reality of the government’s pandemic response has been very different. People with care and support needs are on the sharp end of decisions to change, restrict and deny access to medical treatments, as well as the very basic things that we all need to live well, especially in these most difficult of times.”


“Almost 1 in 10 people told us they had experienced pressure or use of Do Not Resuscitate Orders, 50% of staff in health, care and social work felt people were being discriminated against because of they have care and support needs, and more than 50% of advocates and community groups said there was no clarity about what laws were being used to enable these drastic cuts to people’s care.”


“These have been unprecedented times, but times in which people and their human rights must be front and centre. Human rights must guide the Covid-19 response, an essential warning system to show who is most at risk, and a framework for making the difficult decisions. Having supported over a 1000 people across the UK since April we know that too few know and advocate for their human rights as legal standards that not only should, but must, be abided by. Yet, this same work also shows that when people and staff use human rights in these difficult times, they can challenge the inequalities in service delivery, practices and policies that put people at risk.”


“There are calls for inquiries, and accountability must be ensured. But more than this, the pandemic has exposed further how poor law, policy and practice means some lives are deemed less worthy. It is not enough to look back and say that was wrong; we must look for change now and in the coming months; there must be immediate change. If we truly believe in dignity and respect, then the human rights principles of lawful, legitimate, proportionate and non-discriminatory must guide the response to, and recovery, from this pandemic.”

The JCHR's Report 

The Joint Committee on Human Rights published their Report on the Government's response to COVID-19: human rights implications on 21 Sept 2020. The JCHR calls on the Government to urgently address a number of issues to ensure that its handling of the Coronavirus pandemic is human rights compliant. The JCHR report refers to several of the findings from BIHR’s research reports above. You can read the summary, read the conclusions and recommendations, or read the full report: The Government’s response to COVID-19: human rights implications (and here as a PDF]. The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP QC said:

"The scale of this crisis is unlike anything many of us will see again in our lifetime. Disruption to our normal way of life and human rights are sometimes necessary in order to lead the country through any significant emergency, but this must always be done in a way that is proportionate and justifiable in accordance with the balancing act that is protecting our human rights.

As we approach the Coronavirus Act’s six-month review, there are a number of concerns that the Government must urgently address. Confusion over what is law and what is merely guidance has left citizens open to disproportionate and unequal levels of punishment for breaking the rules, and unfortunately, it seems that once again, this is overtly affecting BAME individuals. The Government must learn from these mistakes to ensure that any additional lockdowns do not unfairly impact specific groups.

Several times now we have expressed our dismay over the Government's treatment of people in detention, and once again we must impress on the Government the urgency of resuming visits as soon as possible. We cannot know how long coronavirus will impact us, but we heard how devastating being separated from one's family can be for those in care homes, in prison and detained in mental health facilities and this cannot continue for much longer. Blanket bans on visits are not justifiable.

Parliament and the public must be kept appropriately and promptly informed about changes in policy, especially when the human rights of so many are affected in such a wide variety of ways. This is an unprecedented and uncertain time for everyone, and the Government must act in a justifiable, fair and proportionate way".