The Equality and Human Rights Commission has taken the first step towards launching a legal challenge against the government over its "repeated failure" to give people with learning difficulties and autism the appropriate accommodation.

It has sent a letter threatening action to Health Secretary Matt Hancock over what it says is the inappropriate inpatient care of more than 2,000 people.

ECHR chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath told Sky News’ Kay [email protected] there were numerous examples of cases which she said went beyond neglect including harassment, bullying, intimidation and physical abuse.

She said: The government has set itself repeated targets to improve the situation, so really all that we are asking is for those targets to be met.

We have asked the courts to understand that this is a fundamental breach of human rights.

It is a situation where we have seen 2,000 people in long-term inpatient inappropriate involuntary placements, and many of them have been medically discharged, but they are not able to go to more appropriate community placements because there isn’t adequate provision.

People with autism and people with learning disabilities are human beings, just like you and me.

They have human rights just like you and me, they have the right to adequate healthcare and they are loved just as you and I are by their families.

We think that people at the moment are suffering quite acutely. We have called for a change in the law so public authorities are required by default to provide people with independent living and community-based care.

We think that families who have children placed away from them in long term-care are actually losing faith in the system and are wondering what is happening to their child, she added.

The father of an autistic teenager who was locked up for 24 hours a day without any physical human contact told Sky News she was a changed person after she was moved to better accommodation in December after a lengthy campaign.

Bethany, 18, spent three years in a mental health unit in solitary confinement in a room which her family described as a cell in which her food was slid to her across the floor.

Her father Jeremy said she is now living in a home which she helped design and decorate, and is supported by an amazing team of people who all fully understand her autism.

Her life has turned around – and not through medication, but humanity, he said.

It is people doing the right thing in the right place, he said, adding he was pleased to learn about the ECHR’s action because cases like my daughter’s cannot continue.

We need to make the government act on the recommendations in the reports it has itself commissioned. They have ignored those recommendations for far too long, he said.

Bethany is now on a marvellous journey. This is about all the other people locked in these horrific units. Their rights are being so badly abused.

To see people fed through hatches, people who have to sit on the floor behind a line before the door is opened – that sort of inhumane treatment is torture.

The money is in the system. The money to pay millions of pounds to keep a child like mine locked away for three years – that money needs to be diverted to building homes in the community where support is offered.

The Department of Health and Social Care has 14 days to respond to the ECHR’s letter, which says that legal action will be postponed for three months if the department agrees to produce a timetabled plan on how to address the issues.

If the department does not agree to this, the equality commission will apply to the High Court for a judicial review.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: We are committed to protecting the rights of everyone with a learning disability or autism, and are determined to continue reducing the number of people with these conditions in mental health hospitals.

Abuse of any kind against patients in care is abhorrent and we take any allegations very seriously.

We have received the pre-action letter from the EHRC today and will respond in due course.

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(c) Sky News 2020: Government faces legal action over ‘inhumane’ treatment of people with disabilities and autism