"Easing" the Care Act: The impact of Covid-19 Social Care 'Easements' on fundamental rights



  • Professor Jean McHale, University of Birmingham


  • Emma Austin, Central England Law Centre
  • Dr Laura Pritchard-Jones, Keele University
  • Emily Thomas, King's College London NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit
  • Jayne Astbury, University of Manchester

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately adverse impact on those who are already vulnerable in society due to illness, disability, old age, and other socio-economic factors. This multi-disciplinary, cross-institutional Workshop will examine the impacts and implications of the ‘social care easements’ element of the government’s emergency pandemic legislation. The workshop draws upon the work of five research teams undertaking projects funded by the NIHR, ESRC and Baring Foundation, each examining different aspects of the social care ‘easements’ introduced in the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Designed to relieve already stretched staffing capacity during the pandemic, schedule 12, section 15 of the Coronavirus Act allows for the ‘easing’ or ‘flexing’ of mandatory standards of local authority provision as outlined in the Care Act 2014. The easements would allow for the streamlining and prioritisation of care, to ensure that the most urgent and acute needs would be met when resources and staffing capacity were under extreme pressure. There is concern about how these easements might impact on provision and on service users’ rights, both in the short term and longer term. Although only a small number of local authorities activated the higher-level easements in 2020, this legislation and it’s potential to erode the fundamental rights of vulnerable persons has alarmed service users, disability rights groups and legal professionals.

This Workshop will include presentations from each research team, each assessing the impact and implications of the social care easements through different lenses: socio-legal perspectives, those of grassroots advocacy, of social work, of safeguarding, and a focus on those service users lacking mental capacity. Representatives from each team will present their project aims, key issues raised, and initial research findings; they will then take questions. The Workshop will not only highlight new research and practical challenges for service provision in this area, but also stimulate debate and discussion among conference attendees and the broader academic community.