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The Westminster Hall debate on the 15 April 2021 will examine the findings and recommendations of the ‘Fourth Report of Women and Equalities Committee: Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services’.

The Report was published in December 2020 and the Committee note a response from the Government was due on 22 February 2021.

The Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry ‘Unequal impact: Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the impact on people with protected characteristics’ on 30 March 2020. Drawing on the evidence received, the Committee launched three sub-inquiries on the impact of Coronavirus on 9 June 2020:

Further information on the decision to launch the sub-inquiries can be found in the Women and Equalities Committee article ‘Unequal impact of coronavirus: three new inquiries launched’.

The disability and access to services sub-inquiry sought to explore the following issues:

In this sub-inquiry, we want to look in more detail at ways of easing some of the problems disabled people are facing when they need access to essential services during the pandemic. We’ll look at access to food, health and social care and education. We also want to think about how the Government could improve its communications and consultation with disabled people about guidance and policies that are having substantial effects on their daily lives.[1]

On 25 September 2020, the Committee published an interim Report on temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act. The Committee note that the primary aim of this interim Report was to inform Members of Parliament ahead of the first six-monthly debate and vote on the continuation of the Act’s temporary provisions, which took place on 30 September 2020. The Government response to the interim Report was published on 25 January 2021.

The full Report ‘Fourth Report of Women and Equalities Committee: Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services’ considers disabled people’s broader experience of the pandemic and covers the following:

  • Access to food
  • Health and social care
  • Provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
  • Engagement and communication with disabled people
  • A future independent inquiry

On 13 January 2021, the Women and Equalities Committee also launched an inquiry ‘The role of the Government Equalities Office: embedding equalities across Government’ to “explore cross-cutting Government equalities strategies and consider recommendations for change to embed equalities across Government”.[2]

The Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office is developing a National Strategy for Disabled People.[3] The strategy reportedly has the following objectives:

  • develop a positive and clear vision on disability which is owned right across government
  • make practical changes to policies which strengthen disabled people’s ability to participate fully in society
  • ensure lived experience underpins policies by identifying what matters most to disabled people
  • strengthen the ways in which we listen to disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, using these insights to drive real change
  • improve the quality of evidence and data and use it to support policies and how we deliver them.[4]

A public survey was launched on 15 January 2021 to “gather views and experiences”.[5] The corresponding GOV.UK news story notes that responses submitted by 28 February 2021 would inform the development of the National Strategy for Disabled People, but that the survey would remain open until 23 April 2021.

In response to a Parliamentary Question, on 30 March 2021 Health Minister Helen Whately stated the Government plans to publish the strategy “later this spring”:

The Government plans to publish a National Strategy for Disabled People later this spring to ensure that all disabled people can play a full role in society. The Strategy will take into account the impacts of the pandemic on disabled people and will focus on the issues that disabled people say affect them the most in all aspects of life.

Local authorities are working with other local partners including clinical commissioning groups, voluntary sector partners and community leaders, to identify the way in which COVID-19 has widened health inequalities and factor this into their recovery plans.[6]

[1]      Women and Equalities Committee, Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services inquiry

[2]      Women and Equalities Committee, The role of the GEO: embedding equalities across Government

[3]      GOV.UK, A National Strategy for Disabled People to remove barriers and increase participation, 2 April 2020

[4]      GOV.UK, A National Strategy for Disabled People to remove barriers and increase participation, 2 April 2020

[5]      GOV.UK, National Strategy for Disabled People survey, 15 January 2021

[6]      Written questions, answers and statements, Coronavirus: Disability, Answered on 30 March 2012

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