Commons Select Committee - Coronavirus (Covid 19) inquiry Launched

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and other organisations have expressed concerns that there may be a particular impact on some people who have protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, sex, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, said:

“In these extraordinary times, it is as important as ever that the Government considers how its actions to tackle the coronavirus impact differently on different communities. Passing emergency legislation at great speed has been essential. Now we need to understand the present and future effect on those who may already be marginalised. We are listening, and we need your evidence to help us to help the Government consider equalities issues, to ensure that its policies and plans are as effective as possible.”

As the Government makes extensive plans to support and protect the population, the Committee would like to find out more about the impact that Government measures including emergency legislation are having on people with these protected characteristics.

  • Have all the relevant equality issues been considered?
  • Are there any unforeseen consequences?
  • If there are problems, what could be done differently/ better?

Examples which the Committee has heard about include:

  • The increased risk and severity of domestic abuse when there is a requirement to stay at home - and the pressure on the healthcare and education settings and specialist services which might normally identify and assess risks and provide support;
  • The urgent need to redeploy healthcare and social work professionals to deal with the pandemic may leave older and disabled people vulnerable in other ways;
  • Children with special educational needs and their families may be particularly affected by school closures;
  • The impact on 'gig economy' workers, who are more likely to be young, from a BAME (black and minority ethnic) background or have caring commitments;
  • An article in the Lancet criticised the lack of gendered response to the Covid-19 outbreak, pointing out that “Recognising the extent to which disease outbreaks affect women and men differently is a fundamental step to understanding the primary and secondary effects of a health emergency on different individuals and communities, and for creating effective, equitable policies and interventions.” Volume 395, ISSUE 10227, P846-848, March 14, 2020
  • An Ipso Mori poll published on 14 February 2020 showed that as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, one in seven people would avoid people of Chinese origin or appearance and one in ten would avoid eating in Asian restaurants; other news reports have pointed to an increase in racially fuelled attacks.
  • Inclusion London has said that the amended duty for local authorities to provide support only when the failure to do so may breach rights under the European Convention on Human Rights “poses a serious risk to the lives of many Disabled people, especially those of us who need social care support.”
  • Stonewall has reiterated that for some LGBT people, the risks of homelessness, insecure employment, restricted access to healthcare and other inequalities will deepen as a result of the health crisis.

The Committee is conscious that there may be many more equality impacts and is keen to hear from individuals and from organisations on these questions:

  • How have people have been affected by the illness or the response to it?
  • Have there been specific impacts on people due to them having a protected characteristic?
  • Are there any unforeseen consequences to measures brought in to ease the burden on frontline staff?

The Government has said current measures will be reviewed in three weeks’ time, and measures in the Coronavirus Act be voted on again in 6 months’ time:

  • What needs to change or improve, which could be acted on in three weeks’ time?
  • What needs to change or improve, which could be acted on in 6 months’ time?

The Committee would like to receive responses by 30 April. However, evidence submitted after that time will still be useful as the Committee will continue to review the situation and scrutinise the Government.