By Lachlan Leeming, BBC local democracy reporter
Advocates fear a “genocide of disabled people” if town halls’ duty to protect disabled people is suspended during the coronavirus outbreak.
Councils currently have a legal duty towards wheelchair users and other disadvantaged communities – but those could be temporarily rolled back as they try to tackle the Coronavirus crisis.
The government’s coronavirus bill to be debated on Monday includes a proposal to suspend the Care Act 2014, which lists the duties councils have for needs assessments and care provision for disabled people in their borough.
Jenny Hurst, a co-founder of Greenwich Disabled People Against Cuts, is among the advocates who fear what the changes will mean for other people with disabilities such as herself.
The changes mean town halls can pick who and what type of needs it will meet, rather than being required to meet all needs as specified under the Care Act 2014.
Councils would also be able to choose whether they carry out assessments of individuals’ needs or care plans.
According to Ms Hurst, the changes are “really putting this back on the authorities” to continue the social care services they provide.
With councils already cash-strapped and under pressure from dwindling social care budgets, she feared current services could be cut completely in the event of a worsening outbreak.
The changes are adding to the anxiety already surrounding coronavirus, which poses a huge threat to vulnerable people with disabilities.
“People are saying they haven’t got clarity around Covid-19…that’s the issue,” Ms Hurst said.
“How do you social isolate if you need special care when someone has to physically touch you?”
“There is a real heightened anxiety about coronavirus itself.”
She said she was “literally in floods of tears” when she first saw the proposed changes last week.
“When Boris Johnson said we’d do whatever it takes, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be the genocide of disabled people who need care services,” she said.
A statement from Greenwich Disabled People Against Cuts further outlined the group’s concerns.
“Should this Bill pass as is, disabled people will be forced to rely on family or volunteers to provide the support that is currently provided by trained, paid, Personal Assistants, care agencies, or residential home workers,” the statement says.
“This will undo decades of campaigning for Independent Living and Disabled People’s rights – potentially causing virtual imprisonment of disabled people, harm or death (through neglect, self-harm, insufficient support and / or suicide).”
According to the government, the changes to the Care Act 2014 would only be triggered if the spread of Coronavirus was such that the Secretary of State considered local authorities to be at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties under the Care Act 2014.
“We expect LAs, working with providers, to do everything possible to maintain services over the coming period,” the government bill states.
“However, during the peak, adult social care services will face surging demand and reduced capacity arising from higher rates of staff absence. This may make it impossible for LAs to continue to deliver at current service levels, or undertake the detailed assessments they would usually provide.
“In such circumstances it is crucial that LAs should be able to prioritise care in order to protect life and reach rapid decisions over the provision of care without undertaking full Care Act compliant assessments.”
While the original paperwork states the changes could be in place for up to two years, Labour and other groups are set to push for shorter, six month reviews into the proposal.
Another disability advocacy group, Inclusion London, has been behind a push which has seen 2000 letters sent to UK MPs over the last 48 hours in a bid to stop the proposal.
The group has urged residents to tweet their MP with the hashtag #savesocialcare as members return to debatet the bill throughout Monday.