Michael Gove refutes claims that disabled people were considered a lower priority for support during the COVID-19 crisis
In a recent hearing at the COVID-19 inquiry, Michael Gove, a prominent government official, faced questioning regarding the alleged prioritization of disabled individuals during the pandemic. Counsel for four organizations representing disabled people, Danny Friedman KC, presented a government document suggesting that measures to protect disabled individuals were being prepared at a slower pace compared to those for other vulnerable groups. Gove vehemently denied these claims, asserting that disabled people were not deemed a lower priority by the government.
Examining the Government Document
The government document in question, dated October 29, 2020, revealed that the COVID-O committee had agreed to work on measures to protect individuals at disproportionate risk due to their ethnicity. The document also stated that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had requested the preparation of a more ambitious package to safeguard people with disabilities, albeit in “slower time.” Friedman sought clarification on why disabled people were seemingly considered a lower priority. Gove explained that the phrase “in slower time” referred to the additional time required to prepare comprehensive measures, rather than indicating a lower priority. He emphasized that those involved in the decision-making process did not view disabled individuals as a lesser priority.
Government’s Perspective on Immigration
During a recent session in the House of Commons, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, faced questions about the government’s plan to reduce immigration. When asked about the announcement of this plan, Jenrick mentioned that it would have been presented before Christmas if possible. Reports suggested that Jenrick’s comment implied that his proposed plan had been blocked by No 10. However, a spokesperson from No 10 downplayed this notion, stating that discussions between departments were a normal part of the policy-making process.
Misinterpretation of Statements
The inquiry also delved into statements made by Prof Dame Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, during press conferences in March and April 2020. Harries clarified that her statement about the World Health Organization’s recommendation for widespread testing was misinterpreted. She explained that the WHO’s advice was aimed at countries with no reported COVID-19 cases, whereas the UK had been conducting tests and faced challenges due to limited testing capacity. Harries defended her statement that the UK was an international exemplar in pandemic preparedness, noting that it referred to a previous assessment of the country’s position.
Accountability and Lessons Learned
Andrew O’Connor, counsel for the inquiry, questioned Harries about her stance on the timing of lockdown measures. He highlighted that Prof Sir Chris Whitty had acknowledged his mistake in advocating against early lockdown measures, and asked Harries why she had not accepted her own fault. Harries initially hesitated to admit any wrongdoing but eventually conceded that if she had “miscommunicated,” it would be an opportunity to learn from the experience. This discussion underscored the importance of accountability and continuous improvement in managing public health crises.
As the COVID-19 inquiry delves into the decision-making processes and actions taken during the pandemic, government officials have faced scrutiny regarding the prioritization of support for disabled individuals. Michael Gove firmly denied claims that disabled people were considered a lower priority, emphasizing that the phrase “in slower time” referred to the necessary additional preparation required for comprehensive measures. The inquiry also shed light on misinterpretations of statements made by health officials and the importance of accountability in learning from past mistakes. As the inquiry continues, it remains crucial to examine all aspects of the pandemic response to ensure a more effective and inclusive approach in the future.