I am delighted to commemorate the United Nation’s International Day for Persons with Disability. Today I look back and share my reflections of the impact of austerity, COVID-19 and the lockdown on disabled people in the UK.
The last ten years of austerity and the UK government’s welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights in the UK. These are not my words but that of the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD). These were the findings in 2015 when the UK became the first member state to be investigated for violations of disabled people’s human rights.
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus Act 2020, has continued this unprecedented assault upon disabled people’s Human Rights, suspending critical protections in the Care Act and the Children and Families Act. The Coronavirus Act has, therefore “undermined & diminished the right to care for disabled people,” and this was even disgracefully voted in again at the 6-monthly review on the 30 September despite over 150 organisations calling on the government to remove the powers in the Act, that are in direct breach of the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Person with Disability.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the health of Disabled people in multiple ways and has shone a light on the human right to life, access to healthcare and emergency treatment. Disabled people have been pressured into agreeing to Do Not Resuscitate with little or no consultation. Turning Point, for example, said it has learned of 19 inappropriate DNRS from families. Moreover, Learning Disability England said almost one-fifth of its members had reported DNRs placed in people’s medical records.
Recently a report from Public Health England revealed that people with learning disabilities who were aged between 18-34 were 30 times more likely to die with the virus than their non-disabled counterparts. People with learning disabilities had higher death rate from COVID-19. Could this be partly due to the lack any ‘reasonable adjustments’ and of easy read guidance or even BSL at Government COVID-19 press conferences, even though the UK government have legal duties to produce accessible information?
The Coronavirus pandemic led hospitals to suspend treatment and deter patients from seeking NHS care to focus on fighting COVID-19. Large numbers of people have had diagnostic tests, outpatient appointments, surgery and other treatment cancelled. Many Disabled people’s needs have gone unmet during the lockdown. In many cases, their conditions will have worsened.
According to Inclusion London’s most recent survey (unpublished), the majority of respondents, approximately 81%, had their hospital treatment delayed due to Covid 19 resulting in severe deterioration in quality of life; surgery cancellations with no communication of rescheduling; fears of premature death as a result of delays in treatment and care; disabled parking bays reduced in hospitals and inappropriate use of telephone consultations to replace physical healthcare (e.g. physiotherapy) and NHS patient transport stopped leaving some unable to attend appointments.
As Inclusion London’s report, Abandoned, Forgotten and Ignored explains: “From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Deaf and Disabled people have experienced discrimination, disadvantage and multiple harms across all areas of life. From unequal access to emergency health treatment to problems with food deliveries, workplace accessibility, cuts to care packages to the increasing cost of daily living.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the long-standing structural inequalities and discrimination that Deaf and Disabled people experience. The dreadful disparities are reflected in the grim data released by the Office for National Statistics, which show that Disabled people have made up about three-fifths of COVID-related deaths in England and Wales. Whilst this is a shocking statistic, what has been equally shocking is the lack of media coverage of the impact of COVID-19 upon disabled people.
The Bank of England Chief Economist has recently warned that the Covid19 crash will likely make inequality worse and we could see the opposite of “levelling up”, stating “that it was a priority before, and it’s is an absolute necessity now.” The Social Metrics Commission’s report Measuring Poverty had previously found that disability is one of the strongest predictors of being in poverty.
The UK government release their National Disability Strategy in the Spring of 2021 and there is much work to do for disability rights in the UK. We have regressed as a nation for disability equality due to the combined focus on austerity, COVID-19, lockdown and the disproportionate impact this has had upon disabled people.
We need to work collectively as a health system and focus on the health data science of disabled people. We are the largest minority group in the UK (20%) and still the most discriminated against. Let’s not be afraid to call out discrimination and inequality when we see it, and let’s work with disabled people and empower the future disabled leaders. Just like with my #NoWheelChairTax campaign that led to abolishing all disabled car parking charges from 206 NHS hospitals in England, this will help 2.5 million disabled people to access critical healthcare in the time of the pandemic and lockdown and is implemented into law from 1 January 2021.
Change is possible; we just need to work together, believe and never give up until the change actually happens! As when we design for disability, we design for us all, so let us all start now from today.