Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities

Older persons and persons with disabilities also need social welfare and health care services under a state of emergency

The fundamental and human rights of the elderly and persons with disabilities must also be ensured during the coronavirus outbreak. Many older persons and persons with disabilities need social and/or health care services continuously. During the coronavirus outbreak, people are concerned not only about the virus itself but also about how the services will work under emergency conditions.

The Constitution of Finland guarantees everyone the right to basic subsistence in the event of unemployment, illness and disability and during old age as well as at the birth of a child or the loss of a provider. As specified by the Constitution, public authorities must secure adequate social welfare and health care services for everyone and promote the health of the population.

Many human rights conventions ratified by Finland require the organisation of social welfare and health care services for persons with disabilities and older persons. These include the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  and the reformed European Social Charter.

Particularly, the rights of those relying on the assistance of others in their daily lives must be secured

Provisional exceptions to basic rights and liberties that are compatible with Finland's international human rights obligations and that are deemed necessary in the case of an armed attack against Finland or in the event of other situations of emergency, as provided by an Act, which pose a serious threat to the nation may be provided by an Act or by a Government Decree to be issued on the basis of authorisation given in an Act for a special reason and subject to a precisely circumscribed scope of application.

On 17 March 2020, the Government submitted the commissioning and implementing decrees on the Emergency Powers Act to Parliament. Some of them concern social welfare and health care services (only in Finnish):

  • Government Decree (125/2020) on the commissioning of the authorities laid down in sections 86, 88, 93–95 and 109 of the Emergency Powers Act
  • Government Decree (124/2020) on the immediate commissioning of the authorities laid down in section 87 of the Emergency Powers Act
  • Government Decree 127/2020) on the right of local authorities to deviate from the deadlines for non-urgent health care and assessments of the need for social welfare services
  • Government Decree (128/2020) on temporary exceptions when applying certain provisions of the Annual Holidays Act, Working Hours Act and Employment Contracts Act.

It is important to remember that, in other respects, the obligations have not changed and that in situations of emergency it is particularly important to look after the rights of people who need assistance from other people.

Therefore, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that States Parties take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.

Statements of various organisations on taking account of the rights of persons with disabilities and older persons in situations of emergency:

United Nations: COVID-19 Outbreak and Persons with Disabilities

HelpAge International: WHO must issue clearer guidelines on the needs of older people

Oliver Lewis: Disability, coronavirus and international human rights

Equal access to information must be ensured

Equal access to information is important, especially under emergency conditions. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has compiled information about the coronavirus in an accessible and multilingual form for the needs of various disability categories, for example: 

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health: Coronavirus prevention in Finland - A state of emergency in Finland

The Sámi Parliament has collected information on the coronavirus on its website in the Sámi languages:

Sámi Parliament: Information on the coronavirus in the Sámi languages

Instructions for providing information in sign languages, and information on corona virus in sign language:

Prime Minister's Office: Recommendation on the use of sign languages (in Finnish only)

Finnish Association of the Deaf: Updated information about coronavirus (in Finnish sign language)