These changes worryingly propose relieving local authorities of their full duties so that they can prioritise the cases they deem most urgent by delaying assessments or not meeting assessed needs in full, and relaxing rules to enable one doctor rather than two to detain people under the Mental Health Act. 

Charities, advocacy groups, families and MPs have expressed concerns that, while emergency legislation is needed to address the Covid-19 pandemic, if used, the changes to the Care Act and Mental Health Act risk leaving vulnerable people unable to access the social care they need and at increased risk of being locked away in inpatient units.
Responding to the emergency legislation, Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“We understand the need for emergency measures in the short-term response to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, any measures taken must have the interests and safety of the most vulnerable in our society at its heart. We need urgent assurances from Government that these emergency changes to the Care Act and Mental Health Act, if used, will not result in more people with a learning disability falling through the gap when it comes to accessing vital social care support and that we do not end up with more people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in inpatient units. Figures out today show that there are still over 2000 people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in inpatient units, often hundreds of miles away from their families. Should emergency powers be used, we want a commitment from the Government that once this crisis period passes that there will be an urgent review into any changes to the care packages of people with a learning disability. While the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised “anything it takes” for the NHS, the social care sector also needs urgent emergency funding to help meet demand and keep people safe during this crisis. The health, care and quality of life of people with a learning disability must be prioritised in both the short and the long term.”
Read Government guidance on the legislation in full online here.


For further information, contact Mencap’s media team on or 020 7696 5414 (including out of hours).  

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email    

Notes to editors

About Mencap

There is approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want. 


What is a learning disability?

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life
  • Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.