Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

16/06/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Caroline Jones AS
Dawn Bowden AS
Delyth Jewell AS
Huw Irranca-Davies AS
John Griffiths AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mark Isherwood AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dai Lloyd AS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Iechyd, Gofal Cymdeithasol a Chwaraeon
Member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee
David Rees AS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Iechyd, Gofal Cymdeithasol a Chwaraeon
Member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee
Hannah Wharf Pennaeth Materion Allanol, y Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol yng Nghymru
External Affairs Principal, Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales
Heléna Herklots Comisiynydd Pobl Hŷn Cymru
Older People's Commissioner for Wales
Jayne Bryant AS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Iechyd, Gofal Cymdeithasol a Chwaraeon
Member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee
Lynne Neagle AS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Iechyd, Gofal Cymdeithasol a Chwaraeon
Member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee
Patience Bentu Swyddog Cymorth Gweinyddiaeth a Pholisïau, Race Council Cymru
Administration and Policy Support Officer, Race Council Cymru
Rocio Cifuentes Prif Weithredwr, Tîm Cymorth Lleiafrifoedd Ethnig ac Ieuenctid Cymru
Chief Executive, Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales
Ruth Coombs Pennaeth y Comisiwn Cydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol yng Nghymru
Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales
Victoria Lloyd Prif Weithredwr, Age Cymru
Chief Executive, Age Cymru

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:01.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 14:01. 

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Can I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? We are meeting today virtually, of course, as we have done now for a number of meetings. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting, published last Friday. The meeting, however, is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, with all participants joining via video-conference. And the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual.

Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. I'll just remind all participants that the microphones will be controlled centrally, so there's no need to turn them on or off individually, although there is a prompt that committee members will need to accept.

We haven't received any apologies, and members of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee will join us for item 3, the session on older people, given the relevance of that to their committee remit. Are there any declarations of interest by any members of the committee, please? No. Okay. Let me just state for the record that if, for any reason, I drop out of the meeting due to technological difficulties, the committee has agreed that Dawn Bowden will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin. So, thanks for that, Dawn, and thanks to the committee for that.

2. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Gydraddoldeb a Hawliau Dynol
2. Inquiry into Covid-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Equalities and Human Rights

Okay, then, item 2 on our agenda today is our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact, and we have an evidence session on equalities and human rights, the purpose being to discuss, obviously, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on those equalities and human rights. I'm very pleased to welcome Ruth Coombs, head of Equality and Human Rights Commission Wales, and Hannah Wharf, principal for external affairs. So, I'm very pleased that you've both been able to join us today.

We'd be grateful if you could make an opening statement of up to 10 minutes to highlight the main priorities you would like to raise with the committee in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on those equalities and human rights, and then the remainder of the time in our session will be for committee members to ask questions. We have received your PowerPoint presentation and that was very useful. Thank you very much. Okay. So, over to you, then, Ruth, initially.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you to the members of the committee for the opportunity to come and give evidence. It feels a bit different doing it this way to the usual way that we do, but we'll plough on through. And, again, if I drop out for any reason, then Hannah will pick up, and she'll be picking up part way through anyway.

You will know from our 'Is Wales Fairer?' report that we've got some entrenched inequalities in Wales, and COVID-19 has really shone a light on those existing inequalities around, particularly, race inequality, violence against women and girls and holding back life chances, socioeconomic disadvantage, and disabled people still being left further behind. These are all things that we know, and we know that in terms of the unequal impact of the pandemic across those different areas of life, we've seen really different experiences for people, and I think we can't give evidence and not say that the loss of life and the fear and worries in communities across Wales is something that we would obviously feel very connected and close to.

So, in terms of the immediate health crisis, we are concerned that older people and disabled people are facing particular challenges. We're particularly concerned around the impact on older people, particularly older people in residential care settings, with 'do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation' notices, the delay in testing, and we are really concerned that Welsh Government was slow in testing in care homes, much slower than it was in terms of the NHS—really far ahead there, but dragging behind. That really reflects how social care does seem to be a bit of a cinderella across the piece. I think that's something that we can't ignore.

Also, the rolling back in the emergency regulations around some of the provisions under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 is somewhere that we feel very concerned. There are not very many local authorities in Wales that have got formal stops to services, but anecdotal evidence suggests that people are getting a reduced or diminished service across the piece. We were pleased to see that protections for children weren't relaxed in the same way as in other parts of the UK, but we still know that children with additional learning needs et cetera are struggling, and we know they're struggling.

In terms of the impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic people, that's been surfaced, and there's been quite a lot of response to that, but we do know that what's happened is that all those structural inequalities that are evidenced in 'Is Wales Fairer?' reports from 2015 onwards are all showing the same thing. We know that black people are more likely to die from coronavirus, there are lots of reasons behind that. It's to do with front-line working, it's to do with being over-represented in low-paid and gig economy work, where employee protections are not there. We also know that, for example, the work around predicting grades instead of examinations this year is going to hugely disadvantage young people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, because we know that, historically, their grades have always been under-predicted, and then they've done better, actually, in the exams than was expected. So, there's something going on there. We also know that the fixed-penalty notices—more were given to Asian and black people there. A huge increase in hate crime, particularly online hate crime, but also people being actually abused in the streets, workers being abused at their place of work, in hospitals, in shops, wherever they are, which is appalling. We know that there are particular challenges for Gypsy/Roma/Traveller families around access to safe water and access to appropriate housing sites at the moment, with them being moved on and moved on, which is not good enough.

We also know that—. Sorry, I've frozen up, but never mind—I shall plough on regardless. I'll just bring it up here. We know that, in terms of children and young people, there are real concerns with their mental health. We've also tried to look at whether or not the changes to mental health tribunals are making a difference, because they've been particularly restricted in Wales. Because the regulations have been relaxed more in Wales than they have in England, even though we're under the same Act, people in Wales are much more likely to have a tribunal where either only written evidence is taken into account, or there's only one person making the decision rather than the usual three. So, that reduces people's protections under that Act. I've already told you about concerns about children with additional learning needs not accessing support in education, and BAME children being less likely to be able to be online and also more likely to be living in overcrowded circumstances, which means that it's much more difficult for them to actually find a space to do some quiet work, and some potential language barriers for parents or carers unable to support them as adequately. 

We also know that disabled people are falling further behind. There are some concerns around access to food, and the way that that access has been done in Wales being different from other parts of the UK, and disabled people feeling disempowered by some of the decisions that have been made.

ln terms of women, we know that there is an increase in domestic violence. The fact that economic discrimination for women and the pressure exerted from their partners is also on the increase, and it's much more difficult for some people in communities, particularly for BAME women and girls, to actually be out and about to be able to report their concerns, because it's easier for those communities to be held at home, because of the traditional family structures that can be an issue as well. We also know that ethnic minority women are more likely to be in precarious work—zero-hours contracts, agency staff and all of that makes a really big impact, which is a negative impact. 

In terms of people living in poverty, I think it's really important that the committee knows that the Office for National Statistics's recent survey found that men working in the lower skilled occupations have had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19. I think that that needs to be looked into as well. We know that, already, people's life chances are lower in more socially and economically deprived areas. We know that Samaritans have raised concerns about middle-aged socioeconomically disadvantaged men who are at risk from suicide. And we know that, from the work that the Samaritans have done, that might be—although it can't be statistically linked—needing to be unpicked, because that cohort of men fall into the same age range as the particular cohort of young people a number of years ago. So, are they the same people who are still having a higher risk of suicide and that's not being addressed? So, that's another concern of ours.

A bit of a whistle-stop tour, I know. I'm going to now hand over to Hannah to take us through how we might start thinking about rebuilding Wales. Thank you. 

14:10

Thank you, Ruth. I'll now move on to the commission's key recommendations for rebuilding a more equal and fairer Wales. There are four areas that we've identified where the inequalities that Ruth has highlighted can be addressed and action can be taken.

Firstly, it's about strengthening scrutiny and improving compliance with the Equality Act and human rights. Secondly, about improved and increased engagement and involvement with people with protected characteristics, so that policies and actions respond to their needs and mitigate the inequalities that people face. Thirdly, it's really time to take action through ambitious and clear action plans, with robust accountability mechanisms that we can all ensure are implemented. This can give us a road map to rebuild. And last but not least, as we move to the next phase of the pandemic, we need to learn lessons to ensure that care services are prepared for a potential second spike, and prioritise provision of appropriate support services for mental health and domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women survivors. 

So, moving on to the strengthening, right now, we are concerned that the scrutiny and compliance of Welsh Government decisions and policy are not strong enough. We're concerned that there's a lack of transparency and evidence on how equality and human rights are being considered by the Welsh Government. The lack of published equality impact assessments could potentially breach the legal obligations of the public sector equality duty and the equality Act. 

The limited scrutiny by the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee has highlighted that the human rights implications were not published with the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, and has queried the urgent need for an increase in fixed-penalty notices, related to what Ruth said about the disproportionate impact that that's having on black Asian men. 

Although it's understandable that the original measures, including the coronavirus Act, had to be made quickly without consultation, several months later and as the Welsh Government moves towards recovery, there is clearly more time to conduct proper consultation, equality impact assessments and child rights impact assessments, and for full scrutiny. 

Limits to our rights and civil liberties were understandable in a health crisis, but this must be time-bound and proportionate. What are the time restrictions to these easements that Ruth talked about on the social services and well-being Act? And we think that the time is now for those easements to be stopped, and to put those protections back. We also consider the commencement of the socioeconomic duty now, and using the principles of that duty in strategic decision making by Welsh Ministers, will help us to mitigate some of the impacts of a potential recession, which we are probably entering. 

14:15

Oh, I will end and wrap up very—. We can answer all of these questions in your—. I've got plenty more to say, but hopefully it will apply to the questions that you ask us. 

I'm sure they will, Hannah. Thank you very much, and thank you, Ruth, as well. We move straight to Dawn Bowden now. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you both for the presentation. It was really interesting and quite comprehensive, so I think you may have covered some of the things I was going to ask, anyway. The key point you were making there, it seemed to me, at the end was about scrutiny not being strong enough. That's kind of part of the role of this committee, is to ensure that that does happen. So, what I'd like to know is, from your perspective, how effective do you think that Welsh Government actions have been so far? So, in terms of how things worked at the beginning, how things have perhaps evolved and developed and where we are now, in actually addressing some of the unequal impacts of the pandemic that you've outlined this morning—this afternoon, sorry. 

If I could start that—thank you. We're concerned that—. We know things have moved very quickly and decisions have been made quickly, and needed to be done at the beginning and, obviously, protecting the right to life was of paramount importance at that point. But what we're really concerned about is that there's not any transparency about the Government scrutiny. So, their own scrutiny mechanisms are not transparent. There's been one equality impact assessment in the education field, and one children's rights impact assessment published, but only one. The road map to recovery has equality as a pillar, but no evidence of equality impact assessment on those decisions taken, and the same could be said of testing in care homes; we'd like to see equality impact assessments. 

This seems to be a bit of a thread, I'm afraid. And it could be that those equality assessments are being done and being done properly, because the whole reason for having them is not to publish them; it's not about a process, it's about doing that level of scrutiny to improve your decision making because you are looking at it through the lens of protected characteristics and socioeconomic circumstances. And we do know that there's very little evidence of that scrutiny having happened, and we also know that the Scottish Government has, at times, published those impact assessments. They have a similar specific duty. It's not exactly the same, but a similar duty. So, what we want to see to see is if they're doing them, get it out there so that people can see it and people can feel more confident in the decisions that are being made. 

14:20

Can I just say, because I think somebody is going to be questioning in a little bit, on more detail, in a moment, on impact assessments? But what I'm trying to establish here is how effective the actual actions that Welsh Government have taken are. So, you've got some concern about scrutiny that's led to the actions, but what I'm trying to get at is, from your perspective, actions that have been taken—we can deal with the scrutiny and the impact assessments and so on in a moment—how effective have some of the actions been in actually dealing with some of the inequalities that we're facing at the moment?

Thank you. I think the important point is that it's too early to see the actions, and we've been in many meetings, and I know that the Welsh Government is reaching out to listen and to engage through the disability forum or the race forum or the BAME COVID-19 group. So, there is a lot of listening going on, and that's great, but we really believe that the time now is for action to be taken and much fairness. So, a direct answer to your question: the focus has been on that immediate crisis, and now is the time for more reflective action to be articulated clearly, to be robustly accountable for us as well, as time comes. 

So, there is an example of where they have taken action, where the regulations on movements were put into place, and then, there were concerns raised by disabled people that that was going to unequally impact on certain disabled people's right to freedom and their life. So, the Welsh Government then took a direct action to amend those regulations in light of that, to ensure that action was taken to improve equality for disabled people. So, there are some clear examples of how they can, but we want more of that. 

Okay. I'll leave it there, Chair, because I know that plenty of other people need to ask some questions. Thank you. Thank you both, very much. 

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon. Can I go back right to the beginning of the Government's response to this pandemic? I want to focus on the issue about balancing the Government's role in actually acting on article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to take action to protect life against the other things that you're taking. Because I don't think any of us can try and, if you like, have 20/20 hindsight in an emergency situation, in a crisis response to a pandemic. So, in that immediate reaction, where they brought through emergency measures, there was limited time to think, to carry out impact assessments and so on; I think you'd probably accept that. In which case—yes, you're nodding—my question to you would be: at this point in time, are we now starting, are we now looking like we're getting that balance right between that absolute imperative for Government to discharge its duty in protecting the right to life against the other individual rights that we have?

Yes, okay, fine, thank you. I'll start, and then Hannah can chip in. Yes, it's a good question. Yes, absolutely, at the beginning, the right to life was absolutely paramount, and rightly and properly so; it needed to be done. But we've had a number of weeks, months—it seems like a long time—to be able to put things into place to start looking at the balancing of rights. And, certainly, some of the decisions that have been made, for example, around fixed-penalty notices—the actual increasing of fines for repeat breaches has disproportionately impacted. And one would have thought that you would be able to foresee that there would be a disproportionate impact of that—that wasn't difficult to see—when you also look at, for example, the disproportionate application of stop and search. So, we know that black men are more likely to be stopped and searched than their white peers. So, now is the time—

14:25

Just to be clear, on issues like that, so, for example the fixed-penalty notice, and this is my worry—. I absolutely appreciate, as we scrutinise the actions of Government, the need, as this goes forward week by week, to focus on areas that actually need recalibration, and to look at that balance. But, on something such as the fixed-penalty notices, which was done—I assume, because none of us here are Ministers—in response to a real worry that lives would be lost because of people travelling, you're saying that, in advance, it should have been foreseen that it would have had disproportionate effects on certain parts of our community, and as such, then, the Government should not have done it.

Well, what we're saying is that they should have considered—. There should have been an assessment of what that action is likely to result in. It might have been, when they first brought in the fines, that that needed to be done to try and stop people from moving around, but, when the reassessment was done to increase the fines, they would have already had some data that would have indicated who was being fined disproportionately. And it's at that point that those decisions need to start taking into account what is the impact on different groups of people.

How does—? Sorry, Chair, just—. Because the specifics are quite interesting on this. How does—? With an impact assessment where you're balancing the right to life, which is enshrined in our charters, against an issue where you know that the impact of that might disproportionately affect certain parts of the community with protected characteristics, how would you expect the Government then to discharge it? I guess your advice would not be, 'Don't go ahead', but, 'If you do go ahead, be in full knowledge that this will have a disproportionate impact, even though you're trying to save lives.'

Yes, that's a good way of putting it. Hannah, did you want to add into that?

Yes. Just to say that these are exactly the questions that we're pleased that you're asking us and that you're asking yourselves, because human rights are interdependent, and the Welsh Government does need to take a holistic view of rights implications in this crisis. And this balance of rights, particularly if you're talking about the easement of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 at the same time as trying to protect the NHS, and what a difficult decision that was at the time, and how human rights—. But, when that crisis was arising, that was the proportionate and time-bound decision to be made. But, right now, the Welsh Government and all of us have to be asking whether that balance is needed and whether we can redo that.

Sorry, just to round that off: also look at what mitigating actions could be taken—so, 'This is the impact: is it reasonable, is it justifiable, how can we mitigate against that, what else could we put in place?' Thank you.

Okay. Thanks, Huw. Thanks, everyone. Okay, Mark Isherwood. Mark, you're still muted.

Right. A similar issue about approach and what we can learn from this, but in the context of disability, disability rights, and disability voice. Since the pandemic started, I have chaired a remote cross-party group on disability meeting, I had an online meeting with a self-advocacy group—[Inaudible.]—people with learning disabilities, and so on. And the main thing that keeps coming through—firstly, they're asking questions because they want to know because they don't know, and, secondly, who's listening to them and asking them about the increased barriers they're encountering and how we can remove those? So, a good example—under one agenda, the Welsh Government spoke to local authorities asking them to bring forward proposals for widening pavements and cycling and so on in response to the pandemic, but also the wider healthy travel agenda, but nobody asked the disabled community about the barriers that needed to be avoided. So, Guide Dogs and the Royal National Institute of Blind People had to produce a report on that, which has been raised with this committee, which I've written and shared with other councils, the Welsh Local Government Association and so on. But we saw, for example, blind and partially sighted people being told that, if they weren't in the shielded group, they didn't get priority for shopping. But, by definition, they can't socially distance in the way that other people can.

Then there are disabled people I met who are concerned that, although the guidance was complicated enough for everybody, there didn't seem to be a means for them to gain better understanding of what that meant for them, what the 'new normal' meant. It was a term that they didn't fully understand. What does the 'new normal' mean? It's the term being bandied around by politicians and the media.

They raised issues around deaths. We know, in England, that there have been published figures showing a spike in learning disabled deaths, but there wasn't an equivalent figure for Wales, which they were asking about. I know this has been raised with the Minister who's going to be speaking at the next cross-party group on disability and answering questions.

Also about the impact on programmes they were involved with, self-advocacy programmes, only funded this year, or until March next year, which have had to come to a stop, because they can't engage with them, such as North Wales Together, such as the Safe Places national membership scheme—. They also asked about hospitals, because you probably know that the Paul Ridd Foundation supports help towards having a safeguard for people with learning disabilities in hospital. They didn't know, if they went into a hospital or if they went onto a ward, if they got COVID and ended up on a COVID ward, would that support be available for them.

There's been a lack of communication, a lack of designing with them the means to minimise the extra barriers they're encountering. But what do you think we should learn from that? We can't undo what's happened, but how can we, as we move forward with this, hopefully avoiding a second spike—but it could come—but, as we move beyond that, genuinely turn the rhetoric about cultural change and public sector equality duty and so on into something that's actually embedded in everything we do?

14:30

Okay. Hannah, there's quite a lot there, but we haven't got a massive amount of time. So, do the best you can.  

Okay. I'll start, and then Hannah can come in. Really good points there, and, certainly, we have written to one local authority with regard to the redesign of open spaces, and we are communicating, we are going to be writing to all local local authorities on a number of points around their obligations during this time.

I think that, going forward, the review of the public sector equality duty specific duties for Wales is currently on pause from Welsh Government. But we do have a duty to engage in the existing regulations, and I think that when we come to review—when the PSED is reviewed—that would be a really good time to strengthen things like the duty to engage, so that the way that engagement is undertaken is perhaps more explicit, that it isn't just about sending out a consultation, it's actively engaging with your local communities.

And, certainly, the commencement of the socioeconomic duty carries a duty to engage. And, again, we know that those public bodies that know their communities and listen to their communities have got a much better understanding and a much better picture of how things are going. So, I think those are some mechanisms that could support that work.

And also I do think that it's really important that organisations, grass-roots organisations—. Both disabled people's community groups, race equality community groups, they know their communities really well and they know how to engage. But they need to be sustainable. So, they need to be funded in such a way that that can be sustained, so that we don't have this constant writing of funding bids and constantly having to change the way you do things, because it's a new project. If we've got mechanisms that work, let's support those mechanisms that work, and support them in a sustainable way.

Hannah, do you want to pick up on things that I've missed?

14:35

Just to really quickly add that these are important points and, potentially, a specific area of enquiry that the committee—your committee—could take forward, because I know the Women and Equalities Committee at the UK Government are doing three specific examples: one on black, Asian and minority ethnic people impacted by the virus, another on disabled people's access to services, and another on the gendered impact on the economy. So, it would be good to know if the committee's considering doing a further inquiry or a deep dive into some of these issues.

Okay. Thanks, Hannah. Thanks. We will discuss what we might take forward in the future towards the end of this meeting today, Hannah. Caroline Jones.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Thank you very much for your introductions. They added an awful lot to this session. So, thank you, both.

I'm looking at the recovery plan and the way Wales is to move towards a recovery plan, and what that entails. Of course, this is always a balancing act, and it is easy to criticise any Government when they make a decision, and it seems to fall into a category of 'that was right, that was wrong', when, really, there are an awful lot of grey areas to be considered.

The Welsh Government's plan for leading Wales out of the pandemic does set out principles that will be used to examine ways to ease the amount of restrictions, and it does state that, of course, human rights will be underpinning the way that we move out of COVID-19, and that is at the forefront.

So, I just wonder, when we move out of the current restrictions, what you would like to see, perhaps in comparison to the Scottish equivalent plan. What can you see there, perhaps, that you'd like to see here? Because, after all, we look all across the board, nationally, to look at what works best, and it's easy to criticise, but I think if we all work together then we can get a plan that is suitable for Wales. So, may I ask you questions on that? Obviously, underpinning the human rights of people and protected categories—may I ask you questions on that, please? Thank you.

In terms—. I'll just go on one specific point, and then I'll pass over to Hannah on this one. On the specific point of looking to Scotland, I think one of the things we've got to be careful about, looking over the border, is that the context is different, for a start. There's been an initial study—it's not yet been peer-reviewed, so it comes with a bit of a warning—about the impact of the virus on BAME people being different from other parts of the UK. Now, they've got a race equality strategy. They've got a different picture. It's probably too early to be able to put those two together: what does that mean? And also, of course, they have more control over things like social security and being able to lift people out of poverty in a different way to what we have in Wales.

But, having said that, if there are things that are working well there—and we could look to see what is going well and take from it, and also give back what's gone well in Wales and offer it up, because, you're right, it's not a one-size-fits-all. But, yes, some interesting developments over the border.

Hannah, do you want to address the wider issues?

Thanks. I'll try and be quick. So, in Scotland, human rights have been very much within the framework for recovery and we have written to Jeremy Miles—the Minister, Jeremy Miles—to say how we want human rights to be much more embedded in the Wales framework for recovery. But, yes, as you say, it's excellent that equality is one of those pillars within there and that that does give us a lever to ensure that equality is considered, but what we're also saying is about this more ambitious action plan that underpins the delivery of that.

But the key to that is also about the accountability and implementation of any action plan. So, we're really pleased the Welsh Government has further committed to a race equality plan for Wales. That is absolutely needed and it's high time for that to be done fast and acted upon with rapidity and imperativeness.

And we've got a list—we've already shared our list of the key inequalities that we think should be addressed within any framework. So, that, I think, gives clear outcomes and objectives to be addressed through that that can link to that framework. But it's about how the Welsh Government then ensures it has the resource. And I know this is tough; all of this is tough, but if we're not asking for the big things, if we're not being ambitious about it at this point, we're not going to be able to move forward and really stop the deepening and further exacerbation of those inequalities that Ruth quite clearly laid out at the beginning.

14:40

My next question's on data, and obviously if we are—[Interruption.] Sorry, John.

We've got such limited time left that we'll just go to Delyth at this stage.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. On 21 May, the older people's commissioner asked you to investigate the Welsh Government about whether they had breached the human rights of older people—or partly, as I understand it—because of the fact that people in care homes were not being tested when they had left hospital and upon re-entering care homes. This is something that I've raised with the Welsh Government on a number of occasions, and as yet I haven't been able to get hold of what the evidence was that they were using when the First Minister said to me, on 29 April, I think, that it didn't offer anything useful to test asymptomatic people leaving hospital before going back to care homes. I've written to Mark Drakeford to ask for that evidence. I wonder if you've seen any of that evidence. I wonder if you could firstly update us on where you're at with your decision about an investigation and do you agree or do you think that there's a case to be made for publishing the evidence that the Welsh Government had been using about not testing asymptomatic residents when they left hospital and went back into care homes? 

Thank you. I'll kick off on that one. We've been doing a lot of work with the older people's commissioner over the last few months. We've always had regular contact, but it's been very regular and frequent, which has been really helpful. The commission at GB level held a round-table of older people's organisations to talk about these very issues and what the concerns were. We have supported the older people's commissioner's request for an action plan that looks at what now, what happens next, what if there is another spike, how can we be prepared, but also how can we build on ensuring the safety, dignity and the human rights of older people.

There have been some really amazing examples in different parts of the country, for example in Devon, where one residential home was able to have families do a drive-through visit for people so that they could see their families and wave to their families, which lifted people's spirits, because what we've got to know is that, when people are isolated, their mental health deteriorates and that impacts on their physical health. In terms of testing, I have written to the health Minister asking questions about testing. I haven't had any answers yet, but I do have this week a meeting with Albert Heaney, and Jean White, the chief nursing officer, where I'll be asking for reassurances and asking to see the data and the evidence. So, we are pursuing that and we're also seeing how we can continue to complement the work of the older people's commissioner where we have shared concerns that we can move forward together. We are both regulators but work in a different space to each other and we can complement each other's work.

Hannah, have I missed anything on that one?

14:45

Perhaps just one final question from me, then, in the, I think, three minutes that we can squeeze in. You mentioned poverty earlier in your initial presentation, and many people would say that the social class inequalities actually underlie all the other inequalities—you know, the issues around the BAME community, for example, as well as disabled people. So, what do you think the Welsh Government's performance has been to date—I know it's early days—in terms of responding to this pandemic and, indeed, in terms perhaps of some of the things in terms of the recovery plan and 'building back better', as we keep saying? Have you got some sense of the adequacy of the Welsh Government's feeding in of those social and economic inequalities into the overall picture?

Shall I start with that? Yes, poverty, socioeconomic disadvantage, is absolutely crucial for us to understand further and I think, as a commission, we would say that it intersects and interweaves across other forms of discrimination and across other protected characteristics, but there are distinct ways that disadvantage and inequality impacts on other areas as well.

We have two recommendations that are probably pertinent here to raise for the Welsh Government. One of those is around, as I mentioned earlier, that the Welsh Government should start to show leadership by adhering to the principles of the socioeconomic duty now. We know that they are committed to commencing that, and we're very hopeful that will be done by the end of this year, and there's guidance. And I think that implementation phase for that duty offers an opportunity for us to be clear about what are the priority inequalities of outcome that result from socioeconomic disadvantage that we want public bodies and the Welsh Government, through its duty on Welsh Ministers, to address and to move forward on and take action upon.

That links to the calls from other organisations and from us as a commission in our 'Is Wales Fairer?' report on a more comprehensive poverty action plan with indicators. We know that hasn't worked previously and we know that we might need to take into consideration things that aren't under Welsh Government control and aren't devolved, but we think that that would really help—having clearer indicators and frameworks so that we can monitor the success of this implementation. Thank you.

Okay, thank you very much. Well, thank you, Hannah. Thank you, Ruth. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Diolch yn fawr, pawb.

Thank you, everyone.

Thank you. Okay, we will take a short break and return a few minutes before 3 o'clock. Thank you very much.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:49 a 15:00.

The meeting adjourned between 14:49 and 15:00.

15:00
3. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Bobl Hŷn
3. Inquiry into Covid-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Older People

Welcome back, everyone, to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, and item 3 on our agenda today is our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact, and an evidence session on older people. Given the relevance of this item to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee and its remit, some of the members of the committee are joining us for this session. The  Chair, Dai Lloyd, and David Rees, Lynne Neagle and Jayne Bryant. Welcome to you all. 

We will begin, then, firstly, with our witnesses introducing themselves. Heléna.

Hello, good afternoon, everyone. I'm Heléna Herklots, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.

I'm Victoria Lloyd from Age Cymru.

Okay, welcome to you both. We're going to begin with five-minute opening statements from each of you, and then we will turn to Members for questions. So, over to you.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you very much for inviting me to give evidence to both committees today. What I wanted to do when talking about older people and rights of older people is actually to start, really, by paying tribute to what charities and voluntarily organisations and public bodies and individuals and volunteers have been doing over the last three months to protect and support older people—I think we've seen some of the best of who we are despite all the challenges—and also to acknowledge all that older people have been doing to carry on finding different ways of volunteering, to find ways of working, to care for loved ones often with little or no respite, to support each other and to be resilient. It has been, I think, an incredibly challenging and distressing time for all of us and for many older people. 

You will know that, as the independent Older People's Commissioner for Wales, my remit in a nutshell is to protect and promote the rights of older people, and it would be fair to say that this has been the most challenging time of my tenure as older people's commissioner. But, more than that, I've worked with and for older people for over 30 years, and I've never known a time where I've felt that older people's rights have been more under threat, and where I've had so many distressing conversations with older people and those who care about them.

We've known about issues like ageism and age discrimination and we've talked about its impacts, and, I think, in the last three to four months, we've some of that laid bare, not, of course, just in Wales by any means, but in many other countries, as well. And I think that was right from the beginning, really, in the way that the media actually talked about coronavirus and commentators talked about it. It was quite often referred to as something that only affected older people, as if in saying that it was somehow less an issue for the entire population. And we know that that followed quite quickly by really distressing issues around older people being treated as one group with blanket policy. So, we had the issues of people being pressured to agree to 'do not attempt CPR' notices, for example. We know that because the pandemic decisions had to be taken, which included restriction of rights, for example, about choice of a care home and being discharged from hospital, and we know about the tragedy that's unfolded in our care homes and the time it took for testing to be introduced for all care home residents and staff. And we've also been seeing some really distressing ageism on social media—terms like talking about coronavirus and saying 'boomer remover', or 'boomer harvest'.

A report was given to me last week by an organisation, where older people have reported to that organisation that, actually, when they were out and about, they'd been referred to as 'bedblockers' and told that it would be a good thing when COVID-19 did for them. So, it has been and continues to be a distressing time. I have found it incredibly personally distressing to hear what's been happening, despite all the good work that's been going on. When I look ahead, I'm still concerned about what does lie ahead for older people, and that concern doesn't just stem from my take on it—throughout this pandemic I've been in regular contact with older people. First of all, I'm making sure that I'm speaking to the older people who are the national chairs of older people's organisations, so getting their feed-in from all the older people's forums, and more recently over the last month or so engaging with over 50 community groups and organisations and public organisations, listening partly to what they're doing, and some fantastic stuff that they're doing, but also the issues that they're facing that older people are reporting to them. One of the words that has continued to come across to me is 'fear'—fear about what's happening now, fear about what lies ahead, fear about whether they'll be left behind as the world moves on and we come into recovery.

But I do believe we do have an opportunity to do the right thing, to build on some of the good things that have happened, to learn lessons from things that maybe haven't been done right. I still believe that, at our heart, we're a nation that fundamentally believes in human rights and individual rights. We have an opportunity to do all we can to protect and promote older people's rights, to foster inter-generational solidarity, which is going to be incredibly important as we move forward, and to tackle the inequalities within the older population, and indeed the population more widely. That's why I think some of the things we need to put in place are: a published action plan for our care homes; that we make sure that we talk and communicate about the risks of abuse to older people; that we make sure that there's greater investment in specialist services; that, when we look at the recovery, we make sure that we are using the talents, the ideas and the contribution of each and every generation, including older people, and that they are not just seen as passive recipients of help; and that we really work on making sure we take on more of an ethical approach to dealing with the future decisions that we have to make. And in that context, I very much welcome the Welsh Government setting up the COVID-19 moral and ethical advisory group, looking at the issues for the health service, which I think has made a really important contribution.

So, I very much welcome your inquiry and thank you again for inviting me to talk to you and to answer your questions, and I look forward to the discussion. Thank you, Chair. 

15:05

Thank you for the opportunity to provide evidence today, and I'd like to agree with Heléna in commending the huge efforts of organisations and people in supporting older people in recent weeks.

Points that I want to make today have been informed by the older people that we've been speaking to about their experiences as we've worked to help and support. At Age Cymru, over the last 12 to 13 weeks, we've been focusing our work on providing information and advice to older people, and on seeking to support those who might not have had their usual support services or networks, for a whole host of reasons, by providing regular contact with them.

We're currently making between 1,100 and 1,200 calls to older people across Wales every week to check that they're okay. We're receiving roughly 200 calls a week for advice. Although, in March we were taking 200 calls a day, and over the last week, as the extension to shielding letters have gone out, we've been seeing another spike, so probably around 300 calls last week.

I wanted to echo the points Heléna has made in relation to ageism and age discrimination. I think what was striking about the early responses to the virus that we saw in the media and in social media was that othering of older people and underplaying the seriousness. It reinforces the ageism that we think still remains in society, which is often viewed as benign. It can be paternalistic or patronising, but it has a massive negative impact on older people and sometimes the way they see themselves.

I don't want to repeat all of the points that Heléna has made, particularly in relation to care homes, because there are many other ways that older people have been impacted, so the second point I wanted to make was about the need for clear and accessible information. That need for information was what drove the huge increase in demand for our services, particularly around the way the message evolved and changed in those early days.

Initially, people thought that everybody over 70 was going to need to be shielded for a period, but that never happened, but that wasn't well understood, particularly by the people that we were talking to, and people were left confused about what applied to them. We were inundated with calls from people that thought they should have a letter and didn't, or people that had a letter and didn't think they were going to get one, and then asking us to help interpret the guidance that they got. What it really brought into sharp contrast for us was the gap between those of us that can get our information online and triangulate what we hear and see on the tv and radio, by looking it up online and looking at multiple sources, and those people that aren't online. We know that huge numbers of older people don't have access to the internet and therefore can't do those things that we would naturally do in seeking other sources of information. And, then, we know that as time's gone on, people have actually stopped doing things like watching the news because they found it depressing and difficult, and that means that information has been even more difficult for those people to access.

There have been some really good examples of getting information out to older people, things like the open letters that the Deputy Minister for social care has written to weekly newspapers, pointing people at organisations like Age Cymru for advice. But there is still more that we think that can be done. I think there has been, potentially, an over-reliance on the internet. One older person that we were talking to has had a stroke and has left her unable to use her laptop or her smartphone, and she said that the way the television points people to apps or a website has just left her feeling excluded and forgotten, and I think that's something that we've heard time and again.

The other impact that I wanted to flag is the emotional and mental health impacts of the situation on older people. Isolation has increased many of the existing challenges that people were having in terms of loneliness, and calls to our information and advice services, combined with those that they were making through our check-in chat service, have just illustrated the toll that has come from people spending prolonged periods alone, not being able to see their friends, family and loved ones, and not getting out to mix—you know, particularly those that  could have been out, going for their walk, but thought that they couldn't. And as those weeks have gone on, we've found a growing number expressing anxiety and depression, and we've actually had to provide extra support and guidance to our teams in actually dealing with that added emotional anxiety, because it comes in waves in terms of when people are expecting announcements about when things might get easier. There's always a drop beforehand, and in some cases we've had a sense of relief when the lockdown didn't lighten, just because people felt safer. And several people have expressed to us fears about the sense of waste that they have, that the time that they have left in their lives is being spent in this way.

We're concerned that people's social networks and support systems in some cases have been irreparably damaged or changed during the period, and we think there's going to be a whole need for support around mental health, putting confidence back into communities as things do start to get back to normal. But equally worrying, I think, for me is the number of people that we've spoken to where this isn't a new normal, this is just the way they've been spending their lives for significant periods of time, and it reinforces the need for us to do things there. We've had support from Welsh Government with some of the work we're doing, particularly in terms of launching a volunteer-led telephone befriending scheme. But as I said, additional services around supporting the mental health of older people and rebuilding confidence are vital.

15:10

Okay. Well, thanks very much, both of you, Heléna and Vicky, for those very powerful opening presentations. We'll now move into questions and to Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, and thank you, both. And can I echo what the Chair has said? I think much of what you've presented today will be quite familiar to a number of us that have had representations from constituents and families of constituents, and we've heard much of this. And I think, Heléna, some of the stuff that you were talking about has been well trailed by your office in terms of your criticisms of the way in which older people were treated, particularly at the outset of the outbreak.

So, can I ask both of you, but Heléna, perhaps, in particular, a little bit more about your perception of the effectiveness—notwithstanding some of the things that, as you say, have been well publicised by both of you—of the Welsh Government's actions overall in seeking to address some of the unequal impacts that the pandemic has had on older people as we've progressed through the last few weeks?

Thank you. I'm happy to take that one first. So, I mean, obviously, it's been a very rapidly changing situation, and if I start with where we are now, I think there is some good work under way. So, for example, the whole issue about people being able to visit loved ones in care homes, which is a massive issue, because some people haven't seen their loved ones for three months, and we know that's having a huge impact on their mental health, their well-being— physically as well—particularly people with dementia, who are maybe struggling to retain memories of loved ones—I was very keen that Welsh Government, as quickly as possible, really, moved to look at how to make visiting safe. There has been a working group set up to work on that, which Care Inspectorate Wales are leading. People have been working I think very long hours to try and develop guidance in this area, and there has now been some guidance around how to enable visits to happen safely outside, and now work to look at how to make that happen within care homes. So, I think there are those things where people now see the importance of doing more specifically to support older people.

15:15

Yes, we are. I'm directly, in fact.

So, I think the other thing that I alluded to in my opening remarks, which I think has been positive, although it's broader than older people, is that when the issue of the DNACPR notices happened, which was unbelievably distressing, because we saw and heard from older people who were—they absolutely felt their lives weren't worth anything. And those that got a letter that said, 'The NHS is going to be, you know—there won't be any point you going to hospital, you're not young and fit' had an enormous impact and still does. So, people remember those things.

Again, Welsh Government acted very quickly to set up the COVID-19 moral and ethical advisory group, which I'm on. It's brought together medics, academics, people like myself, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and others. That very quickly resulted in some good—a framework of principles, and that is going out to the NHS.

So, I think there are a couple, Dawn, of examples, really, of where Welsh Government has acted well. I think it's also been receptive, it seems to me, to calls I've been making to make sure that, when looking at what happens next, there is a focus on trying not to exclude older people from that. I think that the language that's been used by Welsh Government has felt appropriate, if I can put it like that. So, I think that's been—

So, do you think—? Can I just push you a little bit further on that? In terms of the very genuine concerns that you had about the way older people were treated at the beginning of this outbreak, do you think that we can say that that relates to the fact that not enough was done to actually listen to older people or to hear what the concerns of older people were, that it was a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic, and therefore we didn't take enough notice of all the different groups that we needed to be talking to?

I think that's what I felt. I felt that older people's issues and concerns weren't featuring strongly enough at the beginning, and the experience of people, if you like, who are dealing with these issues. So, to give an example related to care homes, I didn't feel that people who were working in care homes managed to—. Their evidence about what was happening—and they knew what was happening with asymptomatic transfer, about the speed at which coronavirus would go through a care home—it didn't feel to me that that evidence was given due weight in the same way in which the scientific evidence was. That's a hugely important lesson throughout this, listening to people who know what's happening, who are experiencing it, who have the expertise to offer. I think my concern for the future is: will those things be in place, will issues around the rights of older people—not just about, if you like, avoiding doing harm or avoiding not meeting legal requirements, but will there actually be a focus on how we can promote older people's rights—

—that we've talked about in terms of ageism, in terms of what people have experienced? So, I am asking the Welsh Government, if you like, to do even more in terms of actually actively promoting older people's rights at a point when people have felt under threat or that their rights haven't been valued.

Thank you. I'll just quickly bring Huw Irranca-Davies in at this point, before we go on. Huw.

15:20

Thank you, Chair. It's only a very brief point, Heléna and Victoria. For a moment in time, my community was right at the epicentre of one of these issues, when a local surgery issued blanket letters to patients saying, 'We will not be bringing you back into hospital if you need care.' I've wondered since that whether this was a clumsy, ill-thought-through reaction to an emergency situation, or whether it was something more structural and deep—whether this goes to something about the way that we view, we listen to, we understand older people. And yet you could argue that nobody should understand this better than front-line medical practitioners. I'm wondering what your take on that is—whether there's something deeper here, much more societal, much more structural.

I think there is, Huw; yes, I do, I'm afraid. I think there was a clumsiness around language and what happened, but actually I think there is a deeper issue here, and it's about how we value our older citizens. It's about what people's instinctive reaction was in those professions, in terms of what it was okay to do and what it was okay not to do. We can't imagine, for example, someone in that situation saying, 'Well, we'll write to all women to say this', but somehow it was acceptable to write to people over a certain age, and I think—you know, there's been a lot of debate amongst the gerontological community around whether COVID-19, not just here, but across the UK and internationally, has seen a rise in ageism and age discrimination, or whether in fact it's laid bare what's always been there. I suspect, if anything, it might be the latter. 

Thanks for that. Lynne—could I bring Lynne Neagle in as well at this point, please? Lynne. 

Thanks, Chair. Heléna, you know this was an issue that I raised with you early on in the pandemic, because I actually had an older person who was living at home on her own called up and asked to sign one of these DNACPRs, and she and her family were incredibly distressed, and unfortunately it wasn't an isolated case. When I raised it in health committee with the Royal College of General Practitioners, they said they felt there'd been confusion in communication on this issue, so I'd like to ask you what your assessment is of that confusion and whether you feel that has absolutely been put to bed now so that we're not going to see a recurrence of this issue. 

I'm afraid I don't think it's been completely put to bed. So, we're still hearing of the odd instance and case where people are—they may have had a phone call with an older person, and actually followed up on a DNACPR form. The older person might have had some dementia and has not really been sure about what they've agreed to talking about. So, I think there are two issues here. One is that it's really important, actually, that all of us do advanced care planning and think about those big questions that we face. But they are our decisions to make, and we should have the time to make those decisions, and we should have the opportunity to talk to people that we need to talk to about the decision. And I think there has been a rush to get people to agree to DNACPR, and I think actually that has caused a break in trust between some people—[Inaudible.]—at GP level particularly, and older people and others who have experienced that.

That's going to take some time to rebuild, I think, and I know the group that I mentioned, the COVID-19 moral and ethical advisory group, has been looking at all of this. I think we need to think about in Wales how we can bring into the open the need for us all to think about advanced care planning, but in the right way that respects our individual wishes. And maybe if this leads to that sort of debate, so that we can do it in our own time—but it's not just about older people; it's actually about all of us having those conversations with our loved ones—then that would be a positive that could come out of this. Actually, a year or so ago, my office produced a guide with one of the health boards on advanced care planning and the importance of doing it. So, it's not that it's not important to do; it's just that this was just an absolutely dreadful way to go about the DNACPR issue, and unbelievably distressing. 

15:25

Thanks for that, Heléna. Vicky, I know we've covered quite a lot of ground and you haven't been able to come in with answers yet. Would you like to come in at this stage? 

I just wanted to go back to Huw's point, really, between whether it was clumsy or structural. I just wanted to reflect that definitely it was clumsy, but I think that clumsiness was only possible because of the structural issues we have about people not understanding those rights-based approaches and looking at rights across the board. Because there are often competing rights that we should be looking at, but, in this case, somebody clearly only looked at it through the one lens and didn't pick up, and, if those structural issues weren't there, if we were all more broadly aware of our rights, I think that wouldn't happen. 

Okay, Vicky. Thanks very much for that. Okay, we'll move on to Dai Lloyd. Dai Lloyd.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Sorry, out here in the west, in Swansea, we're on the very fringes of IT technology, just hanging on by our fingernails here, really. But anyway, thank you both for excellent presentations and I'm also grateful to the Chair, John, for allowing health committee members to be part of this, because it's a very valuable part of our own health committee review into the Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And just in passing, to recognise the huge community and voluntary effort—we've heard a lot about the health response and social care response. But also, the on-the-ground response—various voluntary groups have just sprung up naturally. Some of them have been co-ordinated by local authority councillors and stuff, but also by various charities, or by individuals, and there's some tremendous work still going on—people sewing masks and making personal protective equipment and all the rest of it, as well as food banks. There's tremendous stuff going on underneath the radar, and some of that needs to be acknowledged. 

Now, in terms of my thinking on any reviews, I wanted the views of both of you, Heléna and Victoria, as regards Government mindset at the start of this pandemic. You'll recall the Prime Minister of New Zealand said that no New Zealander would die, so going after a definite test, trace, isolate policy—eradication versus containment— from day 1. Obviously, the leaders of Ceredigion County Council have said much the same thing—well, not that no New Zealander should die, but no people in Ceredigion should die—and there was a determined effort there to test, isolate and trace all contacts. 

So, in terms of—I know people will say, 'Well, it's quite easy looking back; you'd have done things differently', but some people were doing things differently at the time. So, I was just wondering what your take was on the different mindsets of different Governments, and how they regarded this COVID-19 and the failure, sometimes, to appreciate that COVID-19 is like SARS, not like flu. I don't know—Heléna, do you want to kick off? 

Thank you. So, I think there are a couple of points, really. So, some of the early steps that we took here were also very much at a time where the whole of the UK was trying to move in step on things, and I think some of the early decisions were partly around what Westminster was deciding as well. So, an example of that will be the coronavirus Act in terms of the easements of our social services and well-being Act here and the care Act over in England.

I think, for me, although it's understandable that there was a big focus on the NHS, I think that was to the detriment of social care, and I think almost that social care was in the service of the NHS and it was all about protecting the NHS. I know that's understandable, because there was such a fear about the NHS being overrun, but the question is whether that was proportionate. And I think it led to some decisions, particularly around discharge of older people to care homes, first of all without testing, and also without a choice of care home or where they would go—they were just seen as people to get out of an acute hospital. I think that mindset is one that we should question.

I think, in terms of the international experience more broadly, it's been very interesting to look at what's happened in different countries in terms of support for older people, particularly those where they've had very few or no deaths in care homes. One of the things they did very quickly, first of all—to your point, Dai—was about understanding that this was more like SARS than flu. And we know that, some of them, the planning had been done more around the basis of flu, and this is not flu, but, actually, they had thought very early on about step-down facilities between hospital and care homes, so that people could go to somewhere to make sure they were COVID-free, to get the support they needed, but out of the acute sector, and into care homes. And, I think, as we look ahead, and think about how we have to live with this virus still, we do need to think about the sorts of facilities that we may now need here in Wales in order to enable people to come out of hospital safety, to recuperate, to rehabilitate, to make sure they're COVID-free, before they go back to whether it's their own care home or living elsewhere. So, I think there are some lessons, certainly, that we can draw from international experience. 

15:30

I'd entirely echo that point. We often look at health and social care; we often use the phrase together, so 'health and social care'. In this instance, emphasis was obviously placed on health services, but, for older people, I think it's recognising the fact that, in terms of maintaining their dignity, their independence, keeping them well and at home, it's actually social care that's very often just as important. And, I think, potentially, with things like the Coronavirus Act 2020 that got lost. Heléna used the word 'proportionate', and I think, when we're looking at responses, that's what we'll be looking at in terms of response, and whether the easements in the Coronavirus Act are proportionate is something that could be discussed. And I appreciate that they haven't been used formally by most local authorities, but I guess it's that sense of the easing of those rights and duties there and what that does to people's decision making beyond.

Heléna, I know that last month you had asked the EHRC to investigate the Welsh Government, in part because of the fact that people were not being tested before they left hospital and went back into care homes. Now, I know that the policy has since changed—well, it had changed before you'd asked them to investigate—but I just wanted to ask both of you about this, because, on 29 April, the First Minister told me that testing asymptomatic care home residents wouldn't have offered anything useful in terms of making the right decision for that person. Now, the policy had already changed at this point—I appreciate the policy's changed—but the evidence that the Welsh Government had been using to make that case has not been published; I've asked them to publish the evidence and they haven't. So, I'd like to ask you both: considering that the policy is now that asymptomatic care home residents and staff are being tested, have either of you seen any evidence that testing asymptomatic residents would not have offered anything useful in terms of making the right decisions for that person?

I've not seen that evidence, no. I—

I was just going to say that, obviously, one of the things I've asked for is to understand the decision-making process, but I haven't seen that specific evidence that you questioned about there. 

We haven't seen anything either. 

Well, could I ask you both: do you think that there would be public interest in making that evidence public, because it's likely that that policy may have led to deaths in care homes?

So, I think it's really important that we do publish not just the evidence but the way in which decisions were made, and whether, in the decision-making process, due regard was given to the issue of older people's rights, for example, and also that, in making those decisions, was the range of evidence looked at. So, the scientific evidence can take us so far, but scientists are not specialists in care homes, and, actually, to come back to my earlier point, I think we needed people who knew what was happening in care homes to be more directly involved in reviewing what was happening. I had a conversation with a care home manager who talked with me, and I know has talked with some of you, and that some of you will have talked to care home managers, about what it felt like when coronavirus came into the home and residents suddenly started dying, and how quickly that happened. And two things: that it was asymptomatic, and also that people didn't present with the traditional symptoms, if you like, of COVID-19; it wasn't necessarily a high temperature and a cough, it was other things. And that's why testing of all residents was so important. And I'm on record as saying that I think the Welsh Government should have acted quicker. At the point at which we knew that was happening, that's the point at which testing needed to come into play, and it didn't come—it wasn't announced in terms of a change of policy until over two weeks later, and then, obviously, some time further in terms of rolling it out, because it takes time to roll out that testing. So I think it would be enormously helpful to understand exactly those decisions, not to point fingers of blame, but to learn, and to consider how, if we are faced with anything like this again, we can make sure that older people's rights are to the forefront, and that the range of evidence that needs to be taken account of is there.

15:35

I just think it's important to reinforce that learning point, because if we're going to see this again—whether it's a second wave of the virus, or if it's something else—it's that learning that will be important for the future.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. May I thank you both for your presentations? It was pleasing to hear about the positive impact from volunteers in your presentations. As we know, regarding elder abuse, there are all kinds of elder abuse; to name but a few: domestic abuse, neglect and the financial abuse by some caring for those who are our most vulnerable. People shielding are extremely vulnerable to abuse, as well as disabled people, because they're totally dependent on maybe an abusive partner or a relative for their every need. And we know from Hourglass Cymru that they have received evidence about rises in calls to their helpline regarding concerns of people who are shielding. My questions really are: how do you think we can enlighten the plight of our abused—our elderly abused—both during this pandemic, and what lessons can we take away, both positive and negative, in moving forward out of this pandemic? And one thing I really am disappointed to see is that the collation of data, statistical information, on domestic abuse only goes up to the age of 74; abuse doesn't just stop at that. So I am querying, really, why the collation of data stops at this and how do we move effectively out of the pandemic, not leaving behind those who are suffering abuse. Thank you.

Thank you, Caroline, and thank you for the question. I agree with what you said there. Before the pandemic, stopping the abuse of older people was one of my priorities as commissioner. So, when this started, one of the things I did was to bring together over 20 organisations who share those concerns, to work together to do all we can to alert people to the risks, but also to the help that's available. So I've been working with the police, with trading standards, with Age Cymru, with Hourglass, Welsh Women's Aid, and others, and we've been meeting regularly. And a lot of the work we've done is to try and get those messages out into the media, directly to older people. One of the things we know is that general messages about abuse or domestic violence do not necessarily land with older people in terms of them thinking it relates to them. So, we've been very keen to do all we can. I think there's more that could be done. I would certainly like to see Welsh Government do more in promoting these issues directly to older people, and thinking about the mechanisms to use. We know older people listen to the radio a lot—local radio, for example—through television, and we need to reach those who are not digitally included who may be at risk.

So in terms of what we can do, I think that awareness raising is critical. We need to get this issue understood in the way in which, 20 years ago, a lot of work was done to get child abuse understood. And we need to get the issue of abuse of older people up to that level of understanding, so people know that it's everybody's responsibility to look out for each other. We do need to make sure, I think, that there is more support for specialist services for older people, particularly those at risk of domestic abuse. Because the system isn't really geared up for older people who may need care and support to be able to leave home, and going to a refuge is not going to work for them. And I know that Yasmin Khan gave evidence to this committee before, and made that point about the need to make sure that, particularly around domestic violence, there are specialist services available to older people.

It's interesting that yesterday was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, where, across the world, people were talking about this and stating the statistics that one in six older people are at risk of abuse. This is a massive issue and I want us to be the country that leads the way on eradicating this.

And we also need to take account, I'm afraid, of the new financial crimes that have come about as a result of coronavirus. So, there are criminals who are making use of this situation to get money off older people, to scare older people, and this is not getting better. We are not winning at the moment on this issue. I think we do need a concerted effort across society, across Welsh Government, but across all political parties to say we can and we're a place that can do better on this.

15:40

I'm pleased that you've mentioned digital inclusion, because we know that 51 per cent of people over the age of 75 do not have access, or perhaps is it the ability to be digitally included? And I think that this is of paramount importance to our people over the age of 75, so thank you for mentioning that.

Yes. I wanted to echo some of those points really. The first about awareness raising. As Heléna says, the messages around abuse don't necessarily land with older people, and so we do need to do more to make sure that people understand the signs.

I mentioned earlier that we've been doing a huge amount in terms of calling older people in ways that we actually don't normally. A lot of our usual work is suspended, so we've been really focusing on making sure we're in contact with lots of older people. And, actually, that is uncovering for us situations, domestic situations, situations with neighbours, we probably wouldn't otherwise have come across. They're not all abuse, some of them are potentially around tensions that result from the current situation, but they're ways we've managed to learn from older people what they're experiencing and working with them to work through those situations. For us it's led to some more safeguarding referrals than we'd probably usually have made, but we're pleased to have been able to do that. Actually, then, that links into the need for more specialist services for older people, because if there aren't services that can pick up and support older people through these situations, then we're still leaving them without the support that they need.

Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon, both. It was just on the point, actually, that Vicky had just mentioned as well, really, around the safeguarding referrals. And I was just wondering if you had any indication from other local authorities across Wales about the increase in their workload, following some of the—perhaps people who were concerned about abuse and other aspects.  

Through the meetings that Heléna has been convening, we know that, initially, safeguarding referrals had gone down, due to less people interacting with older people—that's people visiting homes and making assessments. But we know that, in recent weeks, those numbers have started to climb. And the one concern is that, once the lockdown eases and we start to be doing more assessments, more social services visits, we will uncover more abuse that's been there in society, but that perhaps has been hidden as a result of isolating and shielding. 

Yes. Hello, there. Much of what I was going to raise has already been touched upon. We know that early in the pandemic—and you referred to confusion over shielding—a lot of people, particularly older people, may not have been in the shielding group, but they were in the at risk group, and they found, certainly initially, great difficulty in accessing food deliveries, et cetera. But it didn't appear that anybody was engaging with them individually or collectively to establish the barriers they were encountering and what might be done to address that.

And moving on, anecdotally, I've read of many instances of older people saying, 'They're saying we should do this, and they're saying we should do that, and they need to protect us, and we're the vulnerable ones, but why aren't they asking us? Because we're sensible people, we've lived long lives, we understand the risks. We're quite prepared to take sensible risks whilst following the rules.' So, the key question is: how can we enhance and embed the voice of older people in the design and delivery of this stuff in the future, rather than simply learn from the mistakes afterwards?

15:45

If I can come in there, I think one of the things that we would say, actually, in terms of one of the things we were discussing around blanket policies, is just that very point that you make, Mark, in terms of older people are grown ups. They're used to dealing with a level of risk in their lives. You provide them with the information and you can help them to make sensible decisions. So, I think we'd very much take that on board.

In terms of engaging with older people, as I've said, we've been doing a huge amount of engagement with individuals, and I know through work with the ministerial advisory forum on ageing and the work that Heléna has been doing, there's a lot of engagement of older people that's taking place. We know that the Welsh Government have been consulting on the development of the strategy for older people, and I understand that there's more engagement to do now to look at, post virus, what the situation will look like and, as an organisation, we’ll be supporting those engagement attempts.

So, we've been trying to do it through the organisations of older people that are out there, and there are many. But also, in terms of engaging with individuals, as I mentioned earlier, it's through things like letters to newspapers, through individual telephone conversations, because we probably won’t be having the meetings and the events that we were in the past. So, one of our focuses in recent weeks is looking at how do we get enough engagement with people as we move on. One of the interesting upsides of looking at different methods is engaging people like carers, who actually might find it difficult to get out and go to a meeting. If you're using this sort of Zoom technology, if you're doing a bit more by phone, actually there are people that will find it easier to engage through the remote or virtual methods.

But, if we go back to the point that's been made several times, what we can't do then is exclude those people that aren't digitally included. So, we need to make sure that we've got some phone mechanisms, some individual conversations. We're asking people to write to us as well, because older people will put pen to paper as well. Hearing all of those voices in all of those ways is really useful.

You've got me now, Chair. I've been listening very carefully, and my concern is still the question of care homes, and very much as we move forward. The policy now is that you be assessed before you leave a hospital for a care home, but the policy now is also that staff can be re-tested, but residents aren't. What discussions are you having with Welsh Government to allow residents to be re-tested as well as staff? Because the policy is not to re-test residents.

So, I've asked Welsh Government and have a regular meeting with the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, and asked at my last meeting last week to understand what the policy is in terms of re-testing of residents. So, we know that Welsh Government's announced that there will be weekly testing of staff for the next four weeks and a review before the end of that four-week period, and I've asked for clarity on what the policy is on the testing of care home residents, but I haven't had a response as yet.

And have you also asked about the testing of older people who leave hospital but return to their homes and communities? Because there seems to be a policy to allow those returning to a care home to be tested, but not when returning to communities.

So, my understanding of the policy is that people on discharge from hospital are now tested. So, if they're going back into their own homes as well as if they're going to a care home. That's my understanding. I'll check with Vicky, but I think that's correct.

15:50

I think that's my understanding as well. I think the other point I would make is in terms of the timeliness of testing and the speed at which people get their results, because those are the other things that are being raised with us.

And can I ask finally—? You have mentioned it, but, of course, we know the social services and well-being Act was relaxed on assessments to allow local authorities to actually focus on other priority areas—I understand that—but have you had examples of where, as a consequence of this, people have fallen through gaps and there has been a loss of services when they needed that assessment and they needed that help?

So, we've not heard any individual cases exactly on that point. I think there's also an element of people not approaching social services at the moment as well; we also know in some instances people have decided not to continue with care packages because they've been anxious about the risk of infection from people coming into their home. So, it's quite a mixed picture.

We certainly know—well, it was Carers Week last week and Carers Wales produced a report talking about the impact on carers around what's been happening in social care services and the difficulty of getting help there. So, my view is I think people will have fallen through the net; we haven't had any specific cases coming to us on that basis at the moment. And we know that local authorities have not taken formally up those easing of duties, and it does really beg the question for me about why we have that provision in place, particularly as we're coming out of the initial wave of the pandemic. I think this speaks to a wider point that I'm concerned about, that lots of decisions have had to be made and rights have been restricted—we need to be really vigilant that those rights are reinstated as quickly as possible and this doesn't just become the way of doing things. And I think we do need a level of scrutiny on that point.

Okay. We've a little time left and I want to bring Lynne Neagle in, but, Huw, you'd like to come in on this point. Huw Irranca-Davies. You're muted at the moment, Huw.

Sorry, Chair, I was waiting for the invitation to unmute there. I'm back with you now. I'm just wondering, Heléna, what's your view on these emergency measures that are being brought through going forward? Because, as you say, at the moment, we don't seem to have a great deal of evidence that they have been used. However, we're not out of the pandemic either. So, would your argument be at the moment—or from both of you, actually—that these should now be ceased, taken off, these powers taken away, or simply that we should keep them under review in case we have a second wave or in case it does get worse on a localised basis? 

My preference would be that we remove them and that's partly because, as we go forward and lockdown eases, there will be people who need care and support, and actually I want them to be able to access that with their full legal rights. So, I think I would prefer that we moved away from that and that, obviously, we monitor things as they go and if things develop and there are pressures, then that discussion can happen. But that discussion will happen in a timely way with the full engagement of the organisations that need to be engaged in the decisions, looking at the implications for people's rights rather than something that happened incredibly quickly at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a piece of legislation three months ago, nearly, and the world has changed significantly since then. We have time to get these things right now, I think, and I'd prefer to see that particular piece of legislation go away, frankly. 

Thanks, Chair. I wanted to ask about people living with dementia. I really hate the term 'excess deaths' because every death is an excess death and a tragedy for someone. You'll have seen the figures published by ONS that showed that there'd been an 87 per cent increase in deaths from dementia—not from COVID, but from dementia during the crisis. I think it is a no-brainer to know that isolation is going to be particularly damaging for someone living with dementia. We know most people living with dementia live in the moment, so that lack of contact is hugely damaging. So, I'd like to ask you whether you think the Welsh Government has done enough to mitigate the risks of this pandemic on those living with dementia. I'd like to ask you what more you think the Welsh Government ought to be doing, but I'd also then like to ask you about people living with dementia who are on older persons' mental health wards. Some of those patients are there for long periods of time, often under the Mental Health Act (1983) or the deprivation of liberty and safeguarding provision. They won't have been having visitors either in this period. They are some of our most voiceless citizens. What is your office doing to make sure that their rights have been upheld during this period? Thank you.

15:55

I'm happy to pick up the point, because I think the point you raise about people on adult mental health wards and DoLS, Lynne, I think is a really interesting one, because we haven't seen it so much in terms of the wards, but it is something that's come to us from care homes, who have been really grappling with that issue in terms of people living with dementia, in terms of how you can effectively keep people apart, and isolate without depriving them of their liberty. But, equally, we've had the other cases where—we're back to the rights—in an effort to safeguard people's health from the virus, that focus on their liberty and their right to go to other parts of the home has been denied. So, I think we've seen examples of people paying attention at both ends, and I think care homes, and I guess others as well, are really grappling and looking for support about how they can do that and whether that is additional people, additional provision of PPE, to allow those things to happen. I think that has been an issue.

In terms of people that are remaining in their homes within the community, I think Heléna's already mentioned people that were actually stopping care packages because of concerns of having people coming to their homes. I know of people that are living with dementia that have taken those decisions, again in terms of health and safety, wanting to limit the numbers of people. So, I think we've seen all of those things happening, and it's been a really difficult balancing for families of what the best thing is to do. I mean, the other angle we've seen on that is people thinking about whether they should bring relatives home from care homes, where they're living with dementia, so I think the pressure on families around all of these issues has been huge.

Thank you. I agree with what Vicky said, and in terms of the work we're doing on abuse, part of that's a recognition that people with dementia are at risk of abuse. And that's one of the reasons why I do think we need to give greater focus to that issue and greater investment in support services.

One of the things we've done more generally, but has particularly, I think, been important, is to hear the views and experiences of friends and family of people living with dementia in care homes, and one of the things I've been concerned about in all the discussions and debates about care homes is that we've heard very little from residents themselves or from staff working in care homes, or their friends and families. So, we undertook a piece of work and over the last few weeks, where I've invited people to get in touch with me and the team directly to talk about their experiences, and we'll be producing that report next week. And that has enabled us to certainly hear from friends and family of people living with dementia in care homes about how that's been, how that's felt and what they want to see happening next. It's also enabled me to have some video calls with residents in care homes as well, to hear directly from them how they're managing and how they're feeling about life at the moment there, and what they want to see happen, and, as you might imagine, there's a lot of stoicism there, but a great deal of heartache as well.

Okay, thanks for that. Our time is very nearly up, but, Vicky, I think you'd like to come in briefly?

Yeah, I just wanted to return to the earlier point about social care—I think the question that Dai was asking. We have had lots of anecdotal evidence, lots of calls to our advice line about gaps in provision of care, particularly around hospital discharge—people not being discharged without care packages, people who thought they had a social worker, then be told they're no longer dealing with their case; phone follow-ups to put care packages in place not taking place. So, we've had quite a catalogue, and I just didn't want to make that point, really.

16:00

Okay. Thank you very much, Vikky, and thank you very much, Heléna. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o’r Cyfarfod Heddiw yn ystod Eitem 5 ac Eitem 8
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Meeting for Item 5 and 8 of Today's Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 5 a 8 cyfarfod heddiw, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 5 and 8 of today's meeting, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

The next item, then, on our agenda is item 4, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from this meeting for items 5 and 8. Is committee content so to do? Yes. Okay, thank you very much. We will then proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:00.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:00.

16:15

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 16:16.

The committee reconvened in public at 16:16.

6. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ar Grwpiau Pobl Dduon, Asiaidd a Lleiafrifoedd Ethnig
6. Inquiry into Covid-19 and its Impact: Evidence Session on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups

We move on, then, to item 6 on our agenda today, on our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact, with an evidence session on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. We want to discuss the impact of the pandemic on those minorities in Wales, and I'm very pleased to welcome here today Patience Bentu, administration and policy support officer for Race Council Cymru, and Rocio Cifuentes, chief executive of the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales. Welcome to you both. I'd like you to make an opening statement each, if you would, please, for up to five minutes, and that will be to highlight the main priorities that you would like to raise with the committee in terms of COVID-19 and its impact on BAME groups, and we will then move to questions from Members. So, who would like to begin, then, with an opening presentation?

I don't mind. I'll go. Thank you, John, and thank you to the committee for this opportunity. So, as I'm sure you've heard many times already today, this pandemic has really escalated and exacerbated existing inequalities. It has served to shine a light on the huge gap between rich and poor, between black and white, and between the haves and the have-nots. And, when we're talking about the haves and the have-nots, fundamentally, there's been a huge difference in the experience of those who have Wi-Fi, who have a garden, who have a safe home, and those who have none of those things. So, the experience has been fundamentally polarised and completely different at the two ends of the spectrum.

For BAME people, who make up officially 6 per cent of the Welsh population, they have been severely and disproportionately affected in many, many ways. We have seen that they have been disproportionately affected by the virus itself. Even though they are only 6 per cent of the population, they have made up 14 per cent of people hospitalised by the virus in Wales. 

The inequality and the disproportionate negative impact has been felt across the board. In EYST, we have been conducting weekly online engagement sessions, talking to BAME people from right across Wales on a variety of topics. We've collated evidence from about 500 people in total on these topics. It cuts across everything, but really what we're talking about is people who are already in the most precarious living conditions who have been most affected in terms of the impact on their employment situation, on their education, and on their physical and mental health. 

So, in terms of the impact on employment, BAME people were already in the most precarious, most insecure, most least well-paid jobs. They are more likely to work in the informal economy and they're more likely to work in those areas of the economy that have been shut down, including, for example, restaurants and taxis. They are least likely to know their employment rights, and even if they do know them, they're least able to ensure that those employment rights are implemented. They're least confident to ask for those rights because of existing racism and discrimination and fear of the impact on their employment situation.

They are the least likely to know how to access the different types of financial and Government support that's been made available. And at the same time, and perversely, they also work in those roles and jobs that are most exposed to the virus itself. They're much more likely to be on the front line in the hospitals, in the supermarkets, in our train stations, and this is why, in my opinion, we have seen the high levels of susceptibility to the virus that we have unfortunately seen.

We have seen, as I mentioned, a real severe impact on BAME people's physical health but also their mental health. A survey by Public Health Wales highlighted that BAME people are facing far higher levels of anxiety about the future than non-BAME people. We've heard a lot of evidence about food insecurity because of a loss of income, of BAME families not being able to buy enough food for their families, or because of poor health, they haven't been able to go out and get food. There's also been difficulties with BAME families, and in particular asylum seeker families, accessing the free school meals because of the different systems used and asylum seekers not being allowed to have a bank account, for example. So, food poverty has been a real issue.

Digital poverty has really emerged as a real huge factor that really decides and impacts on how able BAME children and young people and families are to access their rights, to access education, and even to look for jobs and so on. Unfortunately, because of the huge levels of poverty, BAME families are far less likely to have their own laptops, to have sufficient Wi-Fi, broadband. They're far more likely, for example, to have three or four children all sharing one mobile phone and trying to do homework on that phone. It's a situation that we know the education Minister has sought to address through the provision of a grant for schools to purchase laptops, but from what we hear, the implementation of that programme has been far too slow and many children and many families are still without laptops or Wi-Fi to enable them to do their work.

The impact has really kind of gone into every situation, and for children and young people, it has been really quite devastating to experience being left without that access to their regular education or to their friends, or to that level of support that the school environment provides, and even to something as fundamental as food. There is also a huge level of anxiety over the predicted grades and the possibility that those predictions will underestimate the capacity of BAME children and young people, and that that will be disproportionately impacting on BAME children. And at the same time, parents from BAME backgrounds are far more likely to have language barriers that mean they're less able to support their children and support their home learning.

So, it's an array of factors that, if you add all of those up, it presents a really quite devastating and quite bleak situation for BAME families, which really will need some concerted effort to address all of those individual factors. Thank you.

16:20

Okay, Rocio, thank you very much. Patience, don't feel the need to go over the same ground, because I'm sure there'll be much in common in terms of what you have said and what Rocio has said, but what would you like to add?

Yes. I think Rocio has pretty much—. Sorry, first of all, I have to say thank you, John, and thank you to the committee for inviting us here this evening. Rocio's pretty much gone through everything that, ordinarily, I would have said as well, and that's because EYST is our lead for the all-Wales BAME alliance. So, they've done a very good job of collating details.

What I'll probably do is just give a quick back-up to how we got here as Race Council Cymru. By the second week of the lockdown, Race Council Cymru had begun a catch-up on our grass-roots partner groups to find out how everyone within the BAME communities was faring. At this time, we began receiving feedback on some concerns and anxieties—that's by the second week of the lockdown—and some of these earliest ones were related to children of asylum seekers and refugees not being able to access their schoolwork online, a fear of predictive scoring, which was on the back of a Huffington Post article highlighting the disproportionate effects of predictive scoring on BAME children in England. There were also concerns around loss of or reduced income, shielding and isolating in multigenerational homes, and these were some of the earliest indications of concerns.

As the days went by, and the COVID-19 death toll increased, news began to emerge of the disproportionate effects of the virus on BAME front-line workers, leading up to the knowledge that more BAME workers were either dying or in critical care. There are many online data, of course, supporting this. So, with this revelation and the increasing feedback from our grass-roots partners, it became clear that there was an unfolding pandemic within the pandemic that exposed lingering inequalities for BAME people in all sectors.

This revelation has, over the last three or so months of the lockdown, resulted in numerous grass-roots group consultations by Race Council Cymru, meetings with other BAME organisations such as EYST, and also the Welsh Government, to enable us to identify the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 and its associated lockdown on BAME people. These consultations have led to recommendations and a call for action to secure the lives of BAME front-line workers, also to check the health factors that place more BAME people at risk of contracting the virus, and also to mitigate the other socioeconomic factors disproportionately affecting BAME people. These are more engagements, and the call for reports has found us here today. Thank you.

16:25

Okay, Patience, thank you very much. Perhaps I might begin, then, with the first question. As we've heard, it's become apparent throughout this pandemic here in Wales and in the UK that BAME communities have been particularly hard hit in the ways that you've described, and then, once this has become apparent, various steps have been taken by Welsh Government, some of it in combination with the UK Government, in terms of looking at the factors underlying the greater impact of the virus on the health of BAME communities, and then we've got the particular group the Welsh Government has set up with its sub-committees, including one that looks at the wider socioeconomic factors. So, in terms of Welsh Government, which, of course, we're concerned with as a committee, in scrutinising Welsh Government, how would you characterise that response thus far? Has it been adequate? Should Welsh Government have done more by now, and if so, what might they have done? Who would like to begin?

For us, we honestly appreciate Welsh Government's efforts so far, and, as we've always said to everyone, we believe that the Welsh Government has led other UK Governments in dealing with the issues of the effects of COVID-19 on BAME communities, in exploring these effects and also giving BAME organisations a platform and setting up the advisory committee with the two sub-committees: one looking into the effects on health—the health effects, the health risks of BAME people—and the other one looking at the socioeconomic effects. We welcome the progress so far made as the beginning of finding lasting solutions. We know that the work of the sub-committee on the health risk factors has led to or has contributed to the launch of the all-Wales risk assessment tool, which is now being used within the health and social sectors, and we're hoping that, in due course, this will be rolled out to other sectors. So, yes, the Welsh Government has so far done quite a lot. I know the journey is a very long journey, but I think we're progressing gradually. 

16:30

Thank you. I think that the Welsh Government moved quickly to set up the BAME COVID advisory group, which specifically, I understand, is there to investigate the disproportionate impact in terms of health outcomes on BAME communities. I don't think it's yet done enough to look at the wider impact in terms of education, employment, community cohesion, housing. It hasn't, as far as I know, taken a holistic perspective so far, even though they would argue, I guess, that the sub-group of the advisory group, which looks at socioeconomic factors, is intended to do that. But I don't feel that the connections have been made very effectively so far across Government. For example, all of the discussion and impact in terms of education has not really been factored into the discussions of the advisory group. The same with employment—I think there's a bit of a disconnect, and it would be wiser to look at all of the impacts at the same time, because they are all very pressing. Yes, the progress in terms of producing the risk assessment has to be applauded—how quickly that has been produced. However, that can only really be of use to people working in the formal economy, and we have to recognise that there's a high proportion of BAME people working in the informal economy who will not be able to ask their employers to carry out this formal risk assessment. So, far more emphasis and support needs to be given to BAME workers in the informal economy. Also we need to recognise that, even if a risk assessment is carried out and a BAME employee is given sufficient PPE, when they do become ill, because BAME people generally have lower levels of financial cushion, shall we say, then their choice in terms of whether they go to work or stay at home, potentially on sick pay, which is very low, is more of a difficult choice than for somebody who is more financially secure. So, we are calling for Welsh Government to advocate for an increase or a special kind of sick pay that employees of all backgrounds could resort to if they had to stay home because they were symptomatic, for example.

I won't go on for too much longer. I think Welsh Government has made some progress, but more of a holistic, broad-ranging perspective needs to be taken, and it all comes back to race inequality. I know that the plans are now again on the table in terms of the Welsh Government producing a race equality plan or strategy. It has been talked about for a very long time. It was paused, but I think this situation and pandemic have really highlighted that need to move very quickly and accelerate the progress on that, to have a really comprehensive and strategic plan of action to address all of the ways that this pandemic has impacted, but also how the pandemic is also an effect and a symptom of underlying and historic inequalities.

Okay. Well, I think that's really interesting. Obviously the immediate crisis is a health crisis, but there are many factors that produce the particular situation for BAME communities, and that's why there's that sub-group of socioeconomic factors. So, I guess, at the moment, because of the concentration on health, those socioeconomic factors are looked at in that health context and that particular effect on BAME communities context. But I think what you're saying then, Rocio, is that, as we move forward to look at discrimination, prejudice, inequality right across the piece in Wales as it affects BAME communities, that race equality action plan could do that job and take it those stages further but it needs to be done quickly. As you say, it's been around as an idea for a long time but it now needs absolute prioritisation. Would that be a fair summary, do you think?

16:35

Yes, and I think there needs to be fast actions as well; it can't all be long term, medium term. An action can't be, 'We're going to commission more research to understand what's going on', because there's been quite a lot of evidence gathering and finding out what the problem is. I think it's a time for Welsh Government to identify some quick wins in terms of actions that can make some difference, at least, in the short term.  

I see, and you'd support that, Patience, would you? Would you add anything? 

I absolutely support that. I also think that, in designing the race equality action plan, the voices of BAME organisations should be taken on as well. And the feedback that we're getting from communities is that people are tired of talking. So, after that action plan has been designed, they would rather see more actions, immediate actions, than more engagement. You will know that the socioeconomic sub-committee that has been set up has categorised its recommendations into 'immediate', 'mid term' and 'long term'. So, I think what is more important now is the immediate reactions and actions that need to be taken to mitigate some of these challenges and to tackle racial discrimination and inequalities. Thank you.  

I want to touch on funeral and bereavement arrangements, and for cultural and religious considerations. Tonight, by coincidence, I'm chairing a meeting virtually of the cross-party group on funerals and bereavement, and two of the agenda items are bereavement support for the BAME community and service provider discrimination for BAME and faith funerals. I've been contacted by, for example, a funeral director based in Cardiff, who I can't represent individually, stating that he, his company and his family have been subjected to racial discrimination and abuse over recent weeks, which hadn't occurred before. I won't say any more about that online. 

I'm also conscious that Welsh Government worked with the UK Government as part of a framework on this, asking whether ethnicity could be included on death certificates so that we can get a clearer picture. I'm wondering particularly how the system in terms of funerals and bereavement has adapted to the cultural and religious needs of people in different communities, or is this a significant problem that we have to address?

Yes, I don't mind. I think this was a very, very high concern in the early weeks, and there were particular concerns about, for example, how Muslim burials would take place and how Muslim death rituals would happen—for example, the washing of the body, and so on, which traditionally happens. I do know that Welsh Government has worked very proactively with members of the faith forum, including Muslim communities and other religions, to really understand how their concerns could be responded to, and what kind of compromises or health protection measures could be put in place in this situation to make sure that adequate PPE was in place.

So, my understanding is that those concerns have been broadly allayed; people are no longer quite as worried about what will happen. I know that the cost of funerals has been a factor for many BAME families and that there have been many examples of local fundraising to support families in this situation. I'm not aware of any incidences of racism in relation to funerals and burials. However, I am aware that racial tension has escalated significantly in recent weeks, largely in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement and the backlash to that. So, I think it's difficult sometimes to separate where this racial tension has come from and how much of it is because of the pandemic and how much of it is because of Black Lives Matter. But I think, generally, my understanding is that, for most minority communities that I've been speaking to, they have been reassured by the measures being taken in the different local authorities to accommodate their funeral needs.

16:40

Okay. Thank you, Rocio. Are you happy with that, Patience? Is there anything you'd like to add?

Yes, I'm very happy with what Rocio has said. The other challenge that I'm not sure has been addressed yet is to do with the issue of next of kin. We had one case during the lockdown where a front-line worker, who had no blood relatives in the UK, passed away. And, to begin with, his family abroad said it took them about five days before they were even able to find out where his body was deposited, and then another couple of days of dragging back and forth on who the next of kin is and who takes charge of events around that particular death. Now, I think why that was challenging was because there wasn't any clearly identified person as the next of kin of this deceased worker. So, that was one challenge that came forth, and I'm not sure anything's been done so far to address the issue of next of kin for those who don't have immediate families in the UK.

Could I just add a point, as I forgot to respond to your point about ethnicity on death certificates, Mark? We do support the calls that have been made to include ethnicity data on death certificates. We understand that it's not within Welsh Government's competence to make that change. We understand that the Equality and Human Rights Commission are looking at it and also support the call. That is my understanding. I think the complexity is, obviously, once a person is deceased, who makes the call on what ethnicity that person is, when ethnicity is a very personal, subjective definition. That's the complexity, as far as I understand. But better data about ethnic patterns in deaths from different diseases and different health conditions would very much enhance Government's ability and Public Health Wales's ability to respond to those inequalities.

It's come back now. Thank you, Chair, and thank you both for your introductions, which were very interesting. I'd like to discuss a recovery plan for coming out of this lockdown. As we prepare to come out of this pandemic, can I ask you what you think your priorities for a recovery plan should be? It's very positive that the Welsh Government convened an advisory group with two chairs, one looking at health and social care, and the other looking at the socioeconomic issues related to BAME communities. So, I think also, in moving forward, it's very important that correct statistical information regarding data is recorded accurately. There are concerns on the lack of detailed data on deaths in Wales disaggregated by sex, ethnicity and occupation. And Welsh Government, on 4 May, stated that 15 per cent of workers had not stated or entered their ethnicity on the staff recording system. So, moving forward, I think it's very important for both Governments to work together to share good practices and experiences, but also all the factors that you've mentioned in your presentations, which I thank you for, have to be brought together—all the factors brought together—to form a large picture, so that we can have an overall solution to the issues highlighted by both of you, actually. Thank you.

16:45

Okay, I'll go. I think going forwards, in terms of the Welsh Government's recovery plan, whilst we welcome the recovery plan, our call, I would say, as BAME organisations, would be for the adoption and inclusion of the recommendations of the advisory committee for immediate medium and long-term strategies to address racial inequality and reduce its disproportionate effects—you know, for these to be captured within the recovery plan. And I know it is an advisory committee, but it would be good to see that they take on as many of the recommendations as possible.

Also, I'd say that any future Welsh Government decision-making process, during the recovery period, that has to do with BAME people should be led by BAME communities, and that Welsh Government should be working with only those organisations that engage directly with BAME grass-roots communities that can inform the decision-making process, and that Welsh Government must evidence this.

And, finally, what we would like to see the Welsh Government taking very seriously within the recovery plan as well is the increasing call for the introduction of black history into the educational curriculum. RCC manages the Black History Wales programme currently, and we deliver black history and Windrush sessions. And also I think EYST is one of the organisations that is taking black history narratives into schools and also talking about hate crime and social inclusion in schools across Wales. Therefore, I'm very sure that we would be very happy to work with the Welsh Government to produce school resources to be taught across schools in Wales. Thank you.

Thank you. I think that, in terms of recovery, it has to be about the whole of Welsh society, and economic recovery is really going to be the most fundamental aspect of that if everyone living in Wales is to be able to prosper. So, while I agree with everything that Patience said, in terms of we would like to see Welsh Government implement the recommendations of the advisory group and we would like to see them roll out black history across the curriculum—I completely agree with that—but in terms of the economic recovery, that needs to be one that really targets and includes the people who, I think, have paid the highest price in this pandemic, who include BAME people, as they are the ones who've lost their lives at the highest rates, but also young people, because they have missed out on such a fundamental chapter of their lives. So, any investment, in terms of jobs, and any infrastructure investment really needs to target and prioritise those groups in my opinion.

And I agree that the decision making around how these policies and programmes are implemented and rolled out very much needs to include BAME people and young people—needs to include a cross-section of the people that live in Wales—and that needs to be quite a robust decision taken right at the beginning. It can't just be left to chance or hoping that the right people apply for or are chosen for those roles.

We talk a lot about having a new foundational economy, a green economy. We've talked about it a lot, but I think now is the opportunity to actually make that happen. This is not just about going back to normal, because, for a lot of people, normal is not where they want to go back to. So, we can't go back to business as usual if business was never in their interests.

So, for me, in terms of the evidence that EYST has been hearing over the last few months, there's a real need, a desperate need, from some perspectives, to reset, to have a new social contract in Wales that more adequately compensates people for the work that they do. So, we would support calls for a real living wage, for jobs to be far better, to be higher quality jobs, to be better remunerated, and to abolish zero-hours contracts, for example, particularly as we've seen in this pandemic, for people working at the front line and for key workers in every sector, including health and social care but not purely. So, given that we have now realised at last the importance of these people, we have a duty, I think—Welsh Government has a duty—to compensate those people adequately and to make sure that they are prioritised in any recovery.

16:50

Thank you, Chair. I think many of the areas I wanted to touch on, to do with discrimination and racial inequality in the workplace, have been well covered already, but I wonder if I can go a little bit further here, Chair. Regardless of where we are with COVID and COVID recovery, what were the pieces of unfinished business to tackle racial inequality in the workplace and racial discrimination in the workplace? What should we have been getting on with anyway, regardless? Rocio, do you want to start on that?

Yes. I think that there was a need and there still is a need for a stronger body or structure or organisation that can support individuals who are making race discrimination claims. So, we have heard of many, many instances of people making allegations or complaints about racism in their workplaces that have either gone nowhere or have ended up backfiring on the individual, which has resulted in a situation where most people think it's not worth it or that they will actually lose out if they do raise their concerns. So, definitely a better structure for supporting and responding to race discrimination.

In terms of addressing institutional racism, it goes back to the point about adequate and better representation across, particularly, public sector organisations. They should all aspire to what the police already aspire to, which is to have a representative workforce, to be representative of the communities that they seek to serve. And that aspiration should be translated into numerical targets for the proportion of BAME people in their workforce across the organisation, across the pay grades. I think only that will really achiever long-term change.

And the third point that I think is very, very much overdue is including race equality and black history and world history much more effectively within our curriculum in schools. And there is an opportunity. We don't feel as a sector that the new curriculum, as it is being presented so far, has really grasped this opportunity, and we're afraid that the opportunity will be missed or will pass us by.

So, those three things, really: representation, redress for people experiencing race discrimination in employment, and education.

16:55

Thanks very much. Patience, would you concur or is there something that you'd add to that?

I'm just going to add two things. The first is to emphasise the need for a helpline, a reporting helpline, where people who feel that they've been racially abused in their places of work can anonymously report this back. There is a very huge fear within this community that, you know, 'We don't want to report this because if we do, they will target us. We might lose our jobs. It might affect our immigration status', and so on and so forth. So, it will be good. I think that the Wales TUC is working on that, and so I think it's something that should be largely encouraged across all organisations.

The other thing is to do with institutional racism, which is, as I always say, so beautifully painted to look as though it does not exist when it does. A lot of the policies of institutions in this country have been made or designed to protect the systems and the organisations, and absolve those in charge of any fault. So, it will be good, I think, to see a proper monitoring and evaluation process within institutions that very carefully check these things and what is happening, just to keep a check. I think if the institutions know that there is an eye, at some point, within their work—there's an eye being kept on what it is they're doing with regard to racial discrimination—we will begin to see some changes within the institutions. Otherwise, I agree with every other thing that Rocio has said.

Thank you. Is there any anything we need to do with transparency as well—transparency within larger organisations, in terms of pay profiles, salaries et cetera, et cetera? We've certainly seen the benefits in other walks of life, where transparency embarrasses an organisation into taking the necessary measures to make sure that people are promoted, upskilled, on merit. Are we still lagging behind on this?

Yes, I think we've seen that the requirements for organisations to publish gender disparity pay data has been really effective in reducing that gap in most cases, and we would definitely support calls to do the same for race. So, we would very much like to see race disparity pay data being requested and mandated from public organisations, certainly, in Wales, yes.

I do agree with that. I think that transparency is everything. We had a call for that when Government announced its help for small businesses, during the COVID-19 lockdown. Some of the BAME small businesses who applied had this anxiety about whether or not their applications would be accepted and looked at, and the call was for transparency in the process of looking at the applications. So, yes.

Okay. We've got about a minute left. I don't know whether this question is capable of a quick answer. We know that predicted grades may be used because of the COVID crisis to give exam qualifications to pupils, and that there may be a problem there in terms of racial discrimination because of mindsets and subconscious attitudes and so on. Hopefully, some of the things that we've discussed today will lead to longer term changes that will address those sort of cultural and professional mindsets that need to be changed. But is there anything in the very short term, given that this is a here-and-now problem associated with COVID-19—? Is there anything that you would suggest in terms of an action or actions that might address that problem?

I did ask Kirsty Williams this question on predictive scoring in a radio programme, and she gave the assurance that they're keeping a very close eye and it will be monitored, which I hope will actually happen, because that will assure a lot of parents. But also I think the other important thing is to ensure that there is an appeal line where parents will be able to appeal if they're not satisfied or if they have any concerns about their children's predictive scoring.

17:00

I would agree definitely that children and parents need a way of appealing their predicted grades, which currently does not appear to be there and we would also advise that schools are supported to undertake equality impact assessments on their predicted grades before they're actually given to the children. Thirdly, we would also support discussions with universities so that they can make adjustments and check what their intakes are looking like in the coming academic year and the next year, to see if there's any obvious disproportionate impact there and see what they can do.

Okay. Well, that's great. Thank you very much. Thank you both for your evidence to committee today. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you very much.

7. Papurau i’w Nodi
7. Papers to Note

Okay, then, the next item on our agenda today is papers to note, item 7. We have correspondence from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to the Secretary of State for the Home Department regarding COVID-19 and its impact on BAME communities, as we've just been discussing. Correspondence, then, from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice regarding the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. Correspondence from the Chair of the Finance Committee regarding engagement and the Plenary debate on the Welsh Government's spending priorities for 2021-2. Correspondence from the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee to the Auditor General for Wales and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales regarding well-being of future generations statutory reports. And, finally, correspondence from the Minister for Housing and Local Government following her appearance before this committee on 15 May. Is committee content to note those papers? Yes, okay. Well, thank you very much.

8. Ymchwiliad i COVID-19 a'i Effaith: Trafod y Dystiolaeth Ymhellach
8. Inquiry into Covid-19 and its Impact: Further Consideration of Evidence

Item 8, then, is our inquiry into COVID-19 and its impact and our consideration of evidence. We've already agreed that we will deal with this matter in private, so we will now proceed in private. 

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 17:02.

The public part of the meeting ended at 17:02.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru