Thank you for contacting me about the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on people with disabilities and for bringing Scope’s briefing to my attention.
I have read Scope’s briefing with interest. It troubles me that so many people with disabilities feel forgotten during this crisis. As well as addressing this, we must ensure rights are not eroded and also look for opportunities to change things for the better for good.
Regarding welfare, the Government acted quickly to suspend all face-to-face assessments for health and disability-related benefits while also extending award periods, giving people peace of mind that their benefit payments would continue. I am encouraged that Ministers are protecting the health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk of severe Coronavirus symptoms due to their pre-existing health conditions.
My view is that measures in the Coronavirus Act are temporary and proportionate to the threat we face. It is important that they will only be used when strictly necessary and will only be in place for as long as required to respond to the public health emergency. Local authorities are still expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period, and the legislation does not remove the duty of care towards an individual's risk of serious neglect or harm. The legislation must not be used as cover for negating basic duties.
It is of course welcome that those who are living with a disability and are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable can access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The Government’s support package during the pandemic sits alongside a substantial set of welfare support for individuals with disabilities. The Government will spend over £55 billion in 2020/21 on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions.
There are also opportunities for positive change. The way many of us work has, for example, changed. Normalising working from home and other adjustments is one way we can emerge from this into a world which better embraces people with disabilities.