Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s protected characteristics – Law Society response

The Women and Equalities Committee ran a series of inquiries in 2020 into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s protected characteristics.

The first looked at the impact on people’s protected characteristics overall. There were three further sub-inquiries into the impact on disabilities and access to services, gender and economic issues, and the impact on Black and minority ethnic (BAME) people.

These inquiries looked at whether the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures the government took in response to it are affecting some groups more than others, and if this is creating or exacerbating inequalities.

Our view

We're concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the protected characteristics of our members and those of the people our members represent.

We expanded on many of the issues we raised in these responses in our report, Law under Lockdown.

Some of our key concerns included:

Mental Health Act

The Coronavirus Act 2020 reduced safeguards for sectioning someone under the Mental Health Act 1983. This risked depriving people of their liberty unfairly and without proper justification.

We said that these powers should only be used in very limited circumstances and later called for them to be removed in our report, Law under Lockdown.

The government removed the powers in November 2020 for England but they remain in place for Wales.

Care Act

The Coronavirus Act also gave local authorities the power to suspend their duties under the Care Act 2014 to provide support to people with care needs. This could leave vulnerable people without the help they need to stay well and live independently.

We called for careful monitoring of these powers and for there to be ways for people affected to challenge them. We later called for the powers to be removed.

No local authority is currently using these powers but they remain in place.

Domestic violence

Lockdown measures have increased domestic violence and abuse and left many victims in increasingly dangerous situations.

Legal aid must be available so that people experiencing domestic abuse can access protections when they need them most.

Access to legal advice

During the earlier lockdown period social distancing measures meant that family, loved ones and legal representatives could not visit people living in institutions, such as:

  • care homes
  • mental health units
  • prisons
  • immigration detention centres

We raised concerns that this could be preventing vulnerable people from accessing legal advice and support needed to protect them.

Next steps

The calls for evidence to these inquiries are now closed.

Reports from the Women and Equalities Committee and government responses are published on the Women and Equalities Committee website.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is reviewed every six months. It is next due to be reviewed in March 2021.

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