New research from Amnesty International and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland finds human rights were overlooked as major public service re-designs took place during the first lockdown
A new report has shown that human rights were ignored as public services adapted to the coronavirus crisis.
Research from Amnesty International UK and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) found evidence that the human rights of people in Scotland were frequently overlooked as major public service redesigns took place during the ‘first wave’ of Covid-19 in 2020. They say the findings further strengthen the case for the commissioning of an immediate public inquiry into the handling of coronavirus in Scotland.
The research shows that although progress was made in 2019 towards considering human rights in decision making across councils and health boards, this positive progression reversed in 2020 as the number of human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) informing policy declined dramatically. Of the councils and health boards surveyed, 26 provided evidence that impact assessments including human rights considerations were routinely used to assess policy throughout 2019 – however, this number dropped to 11 for the period March to September 2020 as social care was withdrawn and cancer treatment paused.
In March 2021, the Scottish Government committed to strengthening human rights protections for people living in Scotland in the wake of Brexit and threats to the Human Rights Act. The move was backed by civil society groups including Amnesty International and the HRCS - however the report's authors have warned that stringent monitoring of public bodies compliance with legal duties will be vital to make sure new as well as existing human rights laws are upheld. HRCS and Amnesty say the evidence illustrates how human rights are still assigned a subsidiary role in council and health board service design and decision making at a time when a rights-based approach should be at the heart of Scotland’s Covid recovery.
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “Our report found a number of public bodies failed to consider basic human rights when making decisions that affected people’s lives during Covid-19, while we were dealing with a pandemic that restricted and impacted us like few things before it. As the whole country dealt with dramatic changes to lives and livelihoods, charities and frontline organisations began ringing loud alarm bells that some of the most vulnerable people in society were being overlooked and suffering much greater impacts.
“Our evidence suggests healthcare workers, people who need social care, care home residents, people living in poverty, older people, women, disabled people and people of colour were just some of the people most at risk from poorly considered public authority decisions. In the most serious cases, this lack of care even affected their right to life.”
Mhairi Snowden, director of Human Rights Consortium Scotland, said: “It is very disappointing that protecting human rights does not seem to have been a priority for many Scottish public authorities during Covid-19. Too many people are losing out on their human rights during the pandemic because those making the decisions failed to consider them.
“Recovery from the pandemic must include the Scottish Government looking again at how it gets the basics right. Building in human rights to all government decision making will best prepare Scotland for whatever the future brings. Covid-19 recovery plans need to focus on getting human rights in place for everyone, so things like adequate food, a decent home, and education are readily available to people in Scotland.”