The detrimental impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown measures imposed on people across Scotland is to be investigated by MSPs.
The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee is gathering views to inform an inquiry into the effects of the virus and the response to it by the Scottish Government and other public bodies.
Its inquiry will seek to identify which groups and individuals are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and the response to the pandemic.
Views on what the Scottish Government and other regulatory or oversight bodies need to do to ensure that actions taken minimise any negative effects on equality and human rights are sought to inform the Committee’s scrutiny.
Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:
“Everybody’s lives have changed immeasurably as a result of this pandemic. We are acutely aware, however, that some groups are experiencing disproportionately negative impacts of the virus and some of the responses to it.
“For example, we have heard reports that individuals from particular ethnic minorities are being hospitalised at higher rates than the general population, while women and young people are among those most exposed to increased risk as they are disproportionately likely to be key workers.
“Meanwhile, women, children, older and disabled people are among the most impacted by the lockdown restrictions, due to the lack of support available.
“The purpose of this inquiry is to ensure that hard-fought rights are uppermost in decision makers’ minds when responding to this crisis. Our call is open-ended to enable us to monitor the ongoing equalities and human rights impacts, so that steps can be taken to protect those most in need.”
The Committee acknowledges that this is a fast-moving situation, and so is keen to hear what issues need to be addressed urgently and those that will need to be monitored and reviewed in the medium to longer-term.
Since the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK, both the UK and Scottish Governments have sought to slow the spread of the virus, control the pressure on NHS intensive care services, protect vulnerable people and reduce the number of deaths.
On 18 March, both the Scottish and UK Governments announced that schools would be closing at the end of that week. Plans were made to mitigate the impact on vulnerable pupils and those receiving free school meals; pupils undertaking coursework and receiving free school meals; key workers such as NHS staff and the police.
The UK Government announced on 23 March that to protect the NHS, these measures were to be tightened further, with wide-ranging restrictions made on freedom of movement, enforceable in law, resulting in the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and for Scotland, the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations) 2020.
The Scottish Parliament debated and agreed a legislative consent motion on the UK Coronavirus Bill on 24 March. One week later, on 31 March, the Scottish Government introduced the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was considered by a Committee of the Whole Parliament on 1 April and was passed that day. Formally becoming law on 6 April.
During the passage of the coronavirus emergency legislation, Ruth Maguire, Convener to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee secured an amendment to ensure that the Scottish Ministers in exercising its functions under Part 1 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 must have due regard to the advancement of equalities and non-discrimination. She has also state that she would expect human rights and equalities considerations to be central to all scrutiny deliberations.
The Scottish Government will report back to the Parliament every two months, and the Scottish Parliament will review the application of the powers under the emergency legislation every six months; the powers under the legislation can be extended for six months at a time, up to a total period of 18 months.
Earlier this month the Equalities and Human Rights Committee agreed by correspondence that it wished to hold an inquiry into the implications for equalities and human rights arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. The remit of the inquiry is:
“To consider what groups and individuals are disproportionately impacted by COVID 19; identify what the Scottish Government and other public bodies, including regulatory and oversight bodies, need to do to ensure that measures taken in relation to the pandemic minimise negative effects on equality and human rights; and examine measures taken by the Scottish Government and other public bodies and the impacts they may have on equality and human rights.”