Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the government has proposed a set of emergency powers that are likely to be rushed through parliament next week. Whilst a robust response to the pandemic is necessary, elements of the proposals represent a grave threat to justice and the protection of human rights.
Purportedly to halt the spread of Covid-19, the emergency powers will give ‘unprecedented powers to law enforcement agencies’. If passed, these powers will enable police (as well as public health and immigration officers) to detain individuals who they suspect may have Covid-19. Set to be in place for two years, the powers will also enable police and public health officers to force people to be tested, to provide biological samples, to detail their travel history, and to isolate.
It seems highly likely (if not inevitable) that these enhanced powers will be used disproportionately against particular social groups. After all, at every level of policing, its impacts are felt unequally. Amonst others, it is racially minoritised people, working class communities, migrants, and sex workers who are routinely criminalised.
It is clear that the impact of coronavirus is already being unevenly felt. As a consequence of precarity and poverty, self-isolating is far more difficult for those on the breadline than it is for the rich. Social distancing measures are important, but these cannot be punitively enforced without the implementation of social welfare responses. To enable the most precarious to stay at home, universal basic income, rent and mortgage freezes, protection from eviction, and assurances of secure jobs to return to are needed. As is a cessation of the hostile environment agenda.
In the coming months it will be of the utmost importance that we remain vigilant to the creeping infringement of policing and punitive measures into our daily lives, and the risk that this poses to the most disenfranchised in our society. Particularly in these testing times, we welcome the opportunity to work in collaboration and partnership with other liberation groups and look forward to conversations to these ends.