EHRC: How we will help those disproportionately affected by COVID-19
Concerned that the responses to COVID-19 may exacerbate existing inequalities across all areas of life, the Equality & Human Rights Commission explains how it will work to support disadvantaged groups.
The equality and human rights implications of the coronavirus pandemic stretch far and wide. It has triggered a global public health and economic crisis that is significantly affecting all areas of life for everyone. As the UK’s equality body and an “A Status” national human rights institution (we share our mandate to promote and protect human rights with the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC)), we are concerned that COVID-19 and the responses to it may be directly impacting disproportionately on some groups, and exacerbating existing inequalities.
This article highlights some of our main concerns in the areas of health and social care, living standards, work, access to justice, and education, which are set out in more detail in our response to the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities & Human Rights Committee’s inquiry into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The article will outline how we will use our unique mandate to help and support people with different protected characteristics who are disproportionately adversely impacted.
Health and social care
COVID-19 is putting unprecedented pressure on Scotland’s integrated health and social care system. According to the latest National Records of Scotland figures (published 27 May 2020), more than three quarters of all deaths involving COVID-19 were of people aged 75 or over; and 46 per cent of all deaths occurred in care homes.
Furthermore, while there is limited evidence on the impact on ethnic minorities in Scotland, figures published by the Office of National Statistics show that in England & Wales the risk of death from COVID-19 among some ethnic groups is significantly higher than that of those of White ethnicity. We have called on the Scottish government to ensure that relevant Scottish data are available and as robust as possible.
In addition, concerns have been raised about the impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having on access to non-COVID-19 healthcare, not least in relation to mental health services and access to medical treatment for trans people.
Alongside other equality and human rights organisations, we are providing advisory support to the Scottish government’s Chief Medical Officer’s Directorate to inform their ongoing review of the Clinical Advice, and Ethical Advice and Support Framework. We have highlighted the need for obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to be incorporated into guidance to support frontline staff when making challenging healthcare decisions while fulfilling their legal duties. In particular, we have underlined that assessment tools such as the clinical frailty scale must not be used to make decisions about access to critical care in a way which results in unlawful discrimination.
In relation to social care, we have been concerned to hear reports of reductions and removal of social care packages. While the Scottish government’s announcement of additional funding for social care is welcomed, we will continue to monitor the withdrawal of social care and resulting disproportionate impact on disabled people and unpaid carers in particular. In this respect, local authorities are still bound by the public sector equality duty (PSED), though we have reviewed our approach to enforcing compliance with the specific duty reporting obligations in 2020. This means that non-discrimination, the advancement of equality and promotion of good relations must be integrated into decision-making processes on how to allocate resources for social care. We have called on the Scottish government and the Care Inspectorate to carry out an effective, ongoing scrutiny and oversight of the provision of care. To this end, we have written jointly with the SHRC to offer our support to the Care Inspectorate.
Many employers are facing difficult decisions relating to the way employees work, those self-isolating, and around redundancy. To assist employers we have published guidance to ensure that equality obligations continue to be taken into account when making staffing and other employment decisions, as well as reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. Women in particular have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, for example through comprising the majority of health and care workers, and because they take a greater share of childcare responsibilities. We are also aware of concerns relating to pregnant workers and those on maternity leave, and have published guidance for employers on their duties.
We recently submitted our response to the Scottish government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery call for views. In particular, we noted that inclusive, flexible workplace practices which reduce disadvantage and benefit employees not only enable new ways of working but may help businesses better withstand the challenges posed by crises of this nature. We have long called for flexible working to be the default and for it be a day one right for workers.