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Two government ministers have made statements that make their administration look inefficient at best and, at worse, dismissive of the needs of people with disabilities. And, to make it worse, they were both talking about things that happened during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Both ministers were appearing before the UK parliament’s Women and Equalities committee on Wednesday, September 2.
Helen Whately, social care minister at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) attempted to defend her department’s total inefficiency because it was better to delay critical government advice than to rush out guidance that was not as useful as it could be. Generally, that might be true but here we are talking about guidance designed to protect people with disabilities in supported living services.
Remember, prime minister Boris Johnson announced the national lockdown on March 23. The advice in question was not published until August 6. That’s a staggering 19½ weeks, or nearly five months, of inexcusable delay while the umber of cases grew and the death total rose day by day.
Victoria Prentis, junior minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), spoke about access to services for people with disabilities during the pandemic. She said that retailers should be praised for how they supported disabled people during the crisis.
This flew in the face of the fact that those same retailers are facing a mass legal action, by some 750 people, including some with MS, for disability discrimination during the same period.
Completely new demands
Reports of both minister’s comments were reported in two separate stories by Disability News Service’s (DNS) John Pring, a renowned journalist.
In response to a question from Labour’s Kate Osbourne, MP for Jarrow. he wrote that Whately said: “I would have liked… that guidance to have gone out earlier.”
But she said that pulling the guidance together had been “a substantial piece of work”.
She said that “stakeholders… very much wanted to be involved in the production of [the] guidance in a co-production model, so rather than having guidance rushed out that then wasn’t as helpful as it might be, we worked very much with the stakeholders to try and produce a really good quality guidance.”
Whately said the pandemic was “placing completely new demands on a government department” and that putting out “this scale of complexity of guidance” had required “a huge amount of resource” to be “redirected” into “the social care part” of the Department of Health and Social Care.
She added: “In the face of criticisms that everything should have been faster and sooner, those involved in this and the civil servants worked incredibly hard to produce robust, helpful guidance as quickly as possible.”
Law requires ‘reasonable adjustments’
Turning to Prentis, Pring reported:
Under questioning from Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones, Prentis said: “I cannot thank the British Retail Consortium enough for what they did to feed the nation during the pandemic.
“The supermarkets really stepped up and I think we should all be very, very grateful for the way that they did adapt and make adjustments to the needs of our population.”
Prentis was then asked by Davies-Jones whether supermarkets should “face the full force of the law” if they failed to comply with the Equality Act during the pandemic.
She replied: “What the law wants them to do is make reasonable adjustments.
“I felt that they were going above and beyond, truthfully, and really trying hard to meet the needs of their communities.”
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, who was also giving evidence to the committee, was seen nodding in agreement as she made these points.
My own view is that a delay of nearly five months, from lockdown beginning, made the guidance published on August 6 too late to be of any real use. Whately’s supposed justification was simply mealy-mouthed claptrap.
As far as Prentis is concerned, I consider the support for retailers to be ill-advised in the face of impending legal action against them.
To read John Pring’s full reports for DNS, click here for Whately, and here for Prentis.
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Please note that being born in the UK, all my posts, are written using British English spelling.
Centre not center (except in names, Centers of Disease Control) Colour not color Diarrhoea not diarrhea Haematology not hematology Haematopoietic not hematopoietic
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.
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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely his own unless otherwise stated.