Greater transparency needed over how government decisions impact equality & human rights

(Title Image: New Scientist)

Communities Committee
Covid-19 Pandemic & Inequality (pdf)
Published: 10th August 2020

  • Major policy decisions should be accompanied by an equalities and human rights impact assessment.
  • Emergency relaxation of mental health and social care duties under the Coronavirus Act 2020 “should be reversed”.
  • Council tax debt enforcement should be suspended for up to a year; people need to be made aware of the help that’s already available.
  • The case should continue to be made for the UK Government to waive tax on the Welsh Government’s £500 bonus for carers.

“Although the Welsh Government has provided some support, the evidence we have gathered demonstrates that (their) commitment to equality and human rights must now move beyond the immediate situation and begin to plan for a fairer Wales. Alongside the Black Lives Matter movement too, this period has shone an uncomfortable light on inequalities in our society that already existed. “
– Committee Chair, John Griffiths MS (Lab, Newport East)

Decision-making “short-circuited”; some Coronavirus Act provisions should be reversed

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a “short-circuiting” of decision-making by governments, but the Committee pleaded for assurances that certain groups of people aren’t disproportionately impacted by those decisions.

In terms of practical steps, the Committee recommended the temporary relaxation of mental health and social care duties – such as a suspension of care assessments and reduction in the quorum for Mental Health Tribunals – should be reversed as soon as possible.

The Committee welcomed the impact assessments accompanying lockdown easing announcements from 29th June 2020 – and a willingness for the Welsh Government to consult with groups and professionals – but this didn’t reflect how previous decisions impacted equalities and human rights.

One of the high-profile affected groups are older people and care home residents. The Older People’s Commissioner is working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to determine whether the Welsh Government breached the rights of older people during the pandemic. Older and vulnerable people were also reportedly pressured to sign “Do Not Resuscitate” orders, resulting in feelings of worthlessness.

People need to know their rights

The Committee repeated previous calls for the Welsh Government to work to improve uptake of benefits – particularly council tax reductions, discretionary hardship and housing payments.

They recommended enforcement action for council tax debt should be suspended for a year and that the Welsh Government’s £500 bonus payment to social care workers should be exempt from tax – set by the UK Government.

Data was another point of contention. BAME people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and a review group led by Prof. Emmanuel Ogbonna recommended accurate recording of ethnicity, disability and key worker status across health and social care to properly identify those at higher risk.

Other recommendations from the Committee include exploring ways to maximise the income of unpaid carers, establishing a long-term funding model for domestic abuse services, establishing priority home delivery services for disabled people who are not shielding (i.e. the blind) and catch-up classes for children most likely to have fallen behind in education since the lockdown.

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