Commission calls for immediate return of social care support to address human rights concerns

Research published today by the Scottish Human Rights Commission shows that a considerable proportion of people who use social care support at home have experienced either a reduction or complete withdrawal of support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new monitoring report details how the removal of care plans during COVID-19 has had a direct and detrimental effect on people’s rights, including potential unlawful interferences and non-compliance with rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Rights affected include people’s rights to physical and psychological integrity, private and family life, and to independent living in the community.

Read the full report and recommendations (PDF).

Easy Read version (PDF)

The Commission is deeply concerned about the current social care support available to people whose packages have been reduced or withdrawn, and calls for the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to jointly commit to the return of care and support at pre-pandemic levels, as a minimum.

The Commission also calls for better data collection mechanisms to be established by the Scottish Government, and for public authorities to use human rights as a tool to inform future decisions about people’s care and support. The Commission repeats its previous calls for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to be incorporated directly into Scots law, as a key way to strengthen protection for those rights.

People left without essential care

Evidence from research participants showed how the reduction or withdrawal of care and support at home has led to circumstances in which people were left without essential care, such as assistance to get up and go to bed, to wash and use the toilet, to eat and drink, and to take medication.

A third sector organisation: “There are people whose social care packages were cut basically overnight, they would usually have 3 daily visits, they have been completely cut no-one to support them to get dressed or to apply medication, the regressive nature of that is so stark, it’s hard to even describe the impact of that on people.”

User led organisation: “A lot of examples of people left in dire situations, we have been told of people being forced to sleep in wheelchairs, unable to get out of bed, unable to wash and dress themselves, keeping up basic chores having to move in with family even though you know family isn’t used to providing the care and support they need, family members being forced into caring roles that they haven’t done before and some having to give up employment to do that.”

Disabled people’s organisation: “One person we work with ended up being left in their wheelchair, [not properly dressed], for hours at a time, no dignity, they ended up having a physical and mental breakdown, no support.”

Report recommendations

The report sets out 24 recommendations for action, including:

  • The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) should jointly commit to the return of care packages and support at pre-pandemic levels, as a minimum.
  • The Scottish Government should immediately establish data collection mechanisms to monitor the nature and extent of the reductions and withdrawals of care packages.
  • The Scottish Government and COSLA should develop an emergency decision making framework for social care which is grounded in rights-based principles of inclusion and participation in decision making, and transparency. This should also meet critical human rights standards.
  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) should be incorporated into Scots law and therefore into policy design and delivery.

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Commission, said:

“Social care is an essential investment in realising people’s rights, particularly those of us who are disabled, older or provide unpaid care. Delivered properly, social care should enable people to access their rights to family life, health, education, employment and independent living in the community, among others. 

“That’s why the Commission is deeply concerned about the reduction and withdrawal of social care support to people during COVID-19, and the impact this is having on their rights.

“The Commission recommends that the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) should jointly commit to the return of care and support at pre-pandemic levels, as a minimum.

 "Looking ahead, human rights can and should be used by public authorities as a tool to strengthen how decisions are made about social care. This would ensure stronger protections and respect for people’s rights as we all continue to navigate our way through COVID-19. 

“Ultimately the Commission wants to see a social care system, based on human rights, capable of delivering the outcomes which are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”


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Notes to editors:

  1. Key rights relating to social care:
  1. The Scottish Human Rights Commission is Scotland’s National Human Rights Institution, accredited with A-Status within the United Nations human rights system. The Commission has a statutory duty to promote and protect human rights for everyone in Scotland and specific powers to carry out research, monitor and report on how human rights are being respected, protected and realised in practice.
  1. The COVID-19, Social Care and Human Rights: Impact Monitoring Report is based on confidential research interviews with a range of different stakeholders in social care, including social care providers, disabled people’s organisations, carers’ organisations, mental health professionals, specialist legal professionals and advocacy organisations. Other sources of evidence were also reviewed including Freedom of Information requests, surveys and reports by other organisations.