Disabled People have been let down through Covid – Women & Equality Select Committee Report 22/12/20

The Women & Equalities Select Committee has today published its report “Unequal impact?
Coronavirus, disability and access to services” which can be found here: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/4068/documents/40461/default/

This report recognises the significant difficulties faced by two of the key issues taken up by this firm during the early months of Covid; the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) list and the lack of British Sign Language (BSL) provision in Government information.

Quoting from work we submitted in conjunction with Disability Rights UK and with the #Whereistheinterpreter campaign, the Select Committee had much to say that gives us cause for optimism.

Supermarkets

At para 13, “Fry Law, a specialist legal firm, noted that the CEV list was entirely medicalised and therefore argued that the Government’s approach failed to “embed social and human rights models” of disability. The social model of disability is a conceptual framework in which “people with impairments are disabled by the barriers operating in society that exclude and discriminate against them”, as opposed to a medical model, in which people are understood as being disabled by their impairments. The social model was developed by disabled people as a way of recognising, highlighting, and campaigning to remove, the social barriers they face. It is widely accepted, including by the Government Equalities Office, and its use has been encouraged by the Government since at least 2015.”

…and at paragraph 16, “Witnesses reported that supermarkets were not making reasonable adjustments, required by the Equality Act, to allow disabled people access to both online and physical shopping. Fry Law wrote that  supermarkets are confusing the legally recognised definition of disability, as set out in Section 6 of the Equality Act, with the very limited qualification for access as set out in [the CEV list].”

Amongst the conclusions and recommendations made, the Select Committee stated at paragraph 2 that,

“The Government’s predominant focus on supporting CEV people, and its clear direction to the food sector to prioritise them, may have contributed to some supermarkets overlooking their legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for the broader population of disabled people, which has led to legal challenges.

On the subject of BSL Interpreters

Paragraph 124 concedes that,

The accessibility of the Government’s communications to disabled people during the pandemic has been poor from the outset of lockdown in March. The Government has been far too slow to address concerns, notably about the lack of British Sign Language interpretation of government television briefings. Accessibility should have been baked in from the start. Much of what is being asked for could be simply achieved, often at low cost, and bring considerate benefit to disabled people. We recommend the Cabinet Office implement in full the list of accessible communications asks from RNID and other charities. We expect real progress to have been made towards this by the time  the government responds to this Report and urge full implementation no later than the end of the first quarter of 2021.”

This criticism traces across to the conclusions.

The report itself has been provided in BSL here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jfhKeq2T9c&feature=youtu.be

We are grateful to the Select Committee for its rigorous assessment and recommendations. We hope that in the case of BSL Interpreters, the Judicial Review recently launched on behalf of Katie Rowley will be conceded by Government.

 

About the Author

Chris Fry

Chris is the founder of Fry Law.