coronavirus act

Replacing the Coronavirus Act: Liberty’s ‘Protect Everyone’ Bill

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On 25th February, Liberty, the UK’s largest civil liberties organisation, released its Protect Everyone Bill – an alternative to the UK government’s Coronavirus Act which has received scathing criticism since its inception in March 2020.

With the Coronavirus Act up for renewal in March 2021, Liberty is urging MPs to vote against it. Instead, it has proposed the Protect Everyone Bill as an alternative to the punishment-focused approach of 2020.

Coronavirus Act 2020
Liberty proposes a replacement to the 2020 Coronavirus Act [Image: Liberty]

With the help of expert charities, NGOs and lawyers, Liberty’s Protect Everyone Bill removes the dangerous powers in the government’s Coronavirus Act, replacing them with proportionate measures focused on public health, human rights and protection for everyone equally as opposed to criminal justice.

Everyday Freedoms

Civil liberties have become notably diluted throughout the pandemic as the government has been able to push through damaging legislation with next to no scrutiny from parliament. This has resulted in excessive police powers being granted which disproportionately target marginalised communities.

Liberty emphasises that the government’s approach of criminalising people has proved unnecessary. Data from the first national lockdown shows that people followed social distancing measures out of a sense of acting for the common good, rather than fear of penalties. For this reason, the Protect Everyone Bill rejects a strategy of punishment and division, instead prioritising supporting people to follow clear and consistent public health guidance.

Civil liberties have become notably diluted throughout the pandemic as the government has been able to push through damaging legislation with next to no scrutiny from parliament

A particularly concerning aspect of the current Coronavirus Act is that it gives police the power to detain potentially infectious people. The Crown Prosecution Service has revealed that every charge brought under this power has been wrong. Liberty’s Protect Everyone Bill would remove it.

Further protections of civil liberties under the Bill would include the power to appeal all fines and an end to blanket bans on protests. Additionally, the Bill would implement safeguards to ensure that travel restrictions do not infringe on people’s private and family life, their right to seek asylum and the ability to travel to provide humanitarian aid.

Data Protection

Under the Coronavirus Act, the government has been using personal health data to track and monitor our movements. This poses particular concerns for migrants who are deterred from accessing health services out of fear that their data will be used for immigration enforcement purposes.

NHS Test and Trace suffers another round of 'huge' IT issues

Secrecy surrounding who has access to our data has led many to avoid engaging with NHS Test and Trace. To make matters worse, in January 2021, the government quietly introduced regulations which allow the police to access Test and Trace data to enforce isolation. This only further deters people from utilising Test and Trace, getting Covid-19 tests and accessing the vaccine.

Migrants are deterred from accessing health services out of fear that their data will be used for immigration enforcement purposes

The Protect Everyone Bill would ensure that any data collected as part of the Covid-19 response is subject to robust scrutiny and safeguards, allowing everybody to safely access important services without fear.

Migrants’ Rights

Liberty recognises that migrants are some of the most marginalised in society. The hostile environment has remained in full effect throughout the pandemic despite the many adverse impacts it has had on migrants and how this continues to threaten public health during this crisis. The Protect Everyone Bill would work to suspend the government’s hostile environment policies by enabling people to rent, work and access state services as well as suspending all NHS charges.

Docs Not Cops take action against border enforcement in the NHS – Right to  Remain
The hostile environment deters migrants from seeking healthcare due to fear of data sharing with the Home Office and upfront charges. [Image: Right to Remain]

It would similarly suspend data sharing between health services and the Home Office, as this plays a key role in deterring people from accessing vital healthcare. During the Coronavirus, this is of critical concern.

The Protect Everyone Bill would work to suspend the government’s hostile environment policies by enabling people to rent, work and access state services as well as suspending all NHS charges

The Bill would also suspend NRPF (No Recourse to Public Funds) and would require councils to provide support to migrants, noting that safe and secure accommodation is essential. Finally, the Protect Everyone Bill would suspend all deportations for the duration of the pandemic and would release anybody being held under immigration detention powers in detention centres and prisons.

It is vital that the government’s Covid-19 response works to protect everybody without exception.

Housing

Housing is another area addressed by the Bill. The Protect Everyone Bill would ensure that everybody has access to safe, secure accommodation for the duration of the pandemic, regardless of wealth or background. Public health guidance urges everybody to ‘stay home’ whilst doing little to address the fact that for many, this simply is not possible.

The power of tenants' organising | rs21
Liberty worked alongside community unions such as Acorn to address housing concerns.
[Image: Acorn]

For those who cannot afford to ‘stay home’, those who do not have a home, those who live in overcrowded housing or those whose home environment is dangerous, this public health guidance proves meaningless. What’s more, many tenants fear eviction as unemployment levels spiral, leaving vast swathes of the public struggling to pay rent.

Public health guidance urges everybody to ‘stay home’ whilst doing little to address the fact that for many, this simply is not possible

The Protect Everyone Bill would establish a rent wavier which bans evictions for the duration of the pandemic, including for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who have faced being evicted from pitches and endure ongoing issues with accessing water and sanitation facilities.

Additionally, the Bill would require the government to provide stable accommodation for everybody in need, including survivors of domestic abuse, homeless people, migrants and those in overcrowded housing.

A positive alternative to the Coronavirus Act

Marginalised communities have largely been left behind during the pandemic, with policies such as the hostile environment still wreaking havoc at a time when collective safety and wellbeing is a must.

Liberty’s Protect Everyone Bill provides a viable, positive alternative to the current Coronavirus Act. It addresses key concerns and would ensure that everybody is protected throughout this crisis. From problems with social welfare to police enforcement; support for disabled and older people’s rights to migrants’ rights, this Bill provides a fresh strategy to getting through this crisis together.

Written by
Holly Barrow