Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“Human rights abuses were taking place in these modern-day asylums before this crisis. It’s shocking but not surprising that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has found that human rights abuses are continuing to be perpetrated in these institutions during the coronavirus outbreak.

"With family contact cut and CQC inspections reduced during lockdown, families are rightly terrified about what is happening to their loved ones behind closed doors. We support the JCHR’s calls for family contact to be immediately reinstated and for CQC to restart their unannounced inspections to make sure that people are being kept safe and well in these institutions. Some families are living in fear that their loved one will contract COVID-19 and be at risk of dying alone in an inpatient unit or hospital. We have long been calling for a full and accurate picture of COVID-19-related deaths of people with a learning disability across all settings to be published. We support the JCHR’s call for full transparency on the number of people with a learning disability and/or autism in inpatient units who they suspect have contracted COVID-19 as well the number who have died from COVID-19 in either the inpatient unit or acute hospital as well across all settings.

"Over 2000 people with a learning disability and/or autism continue to be locked away, yet during this crisis, the Government and NHS England missed its target to reduce the number locked away for the second year in a row. The Government and NHS England must not use the coronavirus crisis as an excuse not to fix the root cause of the problem by investing in the right social care and housing in the community to stop the vicious circle of admissions, delayed discharge and re-admissions. Yet the social care sector is on its knees as the cost of delivering care soars and emergency funding is not always reaching frontline services. Now more than ever, we need a robust cross-government strategy and investment in a reformed social care system to stop inappropriate admissions in the first place and get people out of inpatient units and back into the community. Lockdown must not mean more people locked up.”


For further information or to arrange interviews, contact Mencap’s media team on:

About Mencap

There are 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. Visit www.mencap.org.uk.

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 helpline@mencap.org.uk.

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.