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‘Terrifying’ emergency Coronavirus Bill would roll back disabled people's care rights

EMERGENCY legislation drafted in to tackle the coronavirus risks stripping care services from the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable, rights groups and charities warned today.

MPs debated the Coronavirus Bill today, which looked set to be signed off by Parliament after the Morning Star went to print.

Prior to its approval, local authorities were required by law to assess the needs of all people who needed care, consider whether they are eligible for state-funded support and provide a plan of care if necessary.

But this was expected to be rolled back by the Coronavirus Bill, under which local authorities are expected to be able to pick and choose what kind of care services they provide.

The government claims that this would help adult social services manage “surging demand and reduced capacity” as higher rates of staff are expected to contract Covid-19 or are otherwise unable to work.

But Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) founder Linda Burnip told the Star that the Bill is the “most regressive and terrifying piece of legislation imaginable” as it may “remove all rights” that disabled people have for care and support.

Dpac was among the groups that had lobbied MPs over the weekend to block the Bill, which was expected to be nodded through without any votes taking place last night.

Campaigners from Disability Rights UK also said that they have serious concerns that the legislation could roll back their rights.

They urged the government to treat social care as key infrastructure, like the NHS, and urgently provide the sector with necessary funding.

Inclusion London, which supports more than 70 deaf and disabled organisations in the city, voiced fears over the Bill’s potentially “devastating impact” on the lives of thousands of disabled people.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said today that the Bill’s measures mean that only care to “keep [people] alive” must be provided.

He warned his government counterpart Matt Hancock against the new legal minimum of support “becoming the default.”

And councils that can provide more comprehensive support should still do so, he said.

Mr Ashworth said that Labour’s clause relating to Schedule 11 in the Bill, on changes to the Care Act 2014, proposes that a relevant body be tasked with overseeing the impact of the new measures on the provision of care and to report back every eight weeks.

Battersea Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, a campaigner for disability rights, wrote to PM Boris Johnson urging him to implement Labour’s demands — which include suspending benefits sanctions and assessments for people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.

She also called for disability benefits to be raised and for an immediate stop to the migration of people from legacy benefits to the controversial universal credit scheme. 

The wide-ranging Coronavirus Bill also elicited concern after it was proposed that its draconian powers could remain in force for up to two years. 

But after pressure from the opposition, the government agreed to an amendment mandating a review of the measures every six months.

Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti said: “We are glad that the government seems to have moved some way towards the compromise offered by Labour in the constitutional and public interest.”

Civil-liberties group Big Brother Watch said that the government’s concession to reviews every six months was “a huge success.”

A separate clause in the Bill temporarily amends the Mental Health Act to make it easier to section people and to keep them detained for longer.

Other elements give legal force to the closure of schools and nurseries and allow ministers to ban gatherings. 

Another clause would permit the closure of borders if too many border staff fall ill.

Among the most draconian powers is a measure allowing police, public health and immigration officers to detain people suspected of having Covid-19, force them to isolate and fine them if they refuse a test.

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