Scottish equality and human rights bodies join together in call for inquiry into implications of Covid-19

The bodies responsible for oversight of equality and human rights for adults, children and young people in Scotland, have on Thursday 16 April 2020 joined together to urge the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee to consider undertaking an inquiry into the equality and human rights implications of Coronavirus.

In a letter to Committee Convenor Ruth Maguire MSP, the three organisations highlight concerns that certain groups appear to be disproportionately and negatively affected by the impacts of the virus and responses to tackle it. They observe that:

  • Women and young people are among those most exposed to increased risk as they are disproportionately likely to be key workers;
  • Women, children, older and disabled people are among the most impacted by mitigation measures taken by the Scottish Government and others;
  • Children experiencing poverty, and those with disabilities or other additional support needs, are cut off from the support normally provided through schools;
  • Individuals from particular ethnic minorities are being hospitalised at higher rates.

The communication sent to Ruth Maguire MSP, Convener of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, was issued on the same day that the Scottish Parliament agreed to set up a short-life Committee to scrutinise the Government’s exercise of its powers. The inquiry proposed by the three equalities and human rights bodies would be expected to complement that work.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland (CYPCS) have called for an inquiry by the committee to identify individuals and groups who are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and measures related to tackling it, to identify actions that Scottish Government and other public bodies need to take to minimise the negative effect on equality and human rights, and to scrutinise measures taken by the Scottish Government and other public bodies for their impact on equality and human rights.

The three bodies argue that actions which are grounded in equality and human rights will command the strongest levels of public confidence, consent and compliance, and ensure that those who are most likely to experience the most negative impacts are prioritised and protected.

Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland said:

“Covid-19 and our response to it is the biggest challenge we have faced in a very long time in terms of children’s human rights. It will have a disproportionate impact on those experiencing poverty and those who receive additional support. Human rights don’t go away in a time of crisis, and it’s during the hardest times it’s most important that they are respected, protected and fulfilled.

We commend the Scottish Government and Scottish public services, particularly the NHS, for their responses to the crisis thus far and the clarity with which the messages about rights to life and to health are being communicated to all parts of Scottish society, including children and young people. 

However, throughout this crisis it is important to consider not just rights to life and health but also the impact on other human rights. We know that those charged with delivering public services are having to make difficult decisions, but we’re already seeing the impacts of the crisis on vulnerable children and young people. From children impacted by poverty now confined to inadequate housing and struggling to get enough to eat, to care experienced children threatened with homelessness, to children with Additional Support Needs being denied statutory support and the routine that comes with regular attendance at school.

The Scottish Parliament has a key role in scrutinising the exercise of executive power, as well as the significant changes to practice that are affecting children and young people across Scotland. We welcome the plans to create an ad hoc COVID-19 Committee. An inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee would provide additional scrutiny and support the Parliament as a whole to play its role as a human rights guarantor.”

John Wilkes, Head of Scotland at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

“The primary role of the Scottish government in the current context is to keep people safe and protect the future of our nation. This means taking decisions which are far beyond the normal scope of everyday governing and we acknowledge the measures and response put in place by the NHS and public services in Scotland to tackle this pandemic.

“This virus and the protections in place impact people differently. We believe that it will be important to consider carefully the specific effects they may have on certain groups who are already disadvantaged so they are not left further behind. For many people the restrictions to everyday life will be hugely disruptive, but ultimately manageable. For others, the implications could be profound.

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission said:

“In times of crisis, human rights laws and standards must guide government action, parliamentary scrutiny, and subsequent monitoring and review of measures taken. Broad powers have been conferred on Scottish Ministers by emergency legislation, enabling them to deal with the current public health crisis. “While these measures may be necessary at this moment in time, many of them have substantial human rights implications and must therefore be subject to regular review. The Scottish Parliament has an important role here, working together with us as human rights and equality bodies, other regulatory and oversight bodies, civil society and people who are most impacted by the current situation.”

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