Today in Parliament, the Women and Equalities Committee is discussing the impact of COVID-19 on people with protected characteristics, included disabled people.
At Sense we are concerned that the inequalities disabled people face are being significantly increased during this crisis. One of the current problems is that Government isn’t collecting the right data or involving disabled people and their families in decision making, and this means that the impact isn’t truly understood. Last week, Public Health England launched a review into the affect COVID-19 has had on different communities and their health, but they did not include disabled people in the scope of their research.
This is why Sense has submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee, as well as writing to MPs, Public Health England and the NHS about the situation for the families we support and how Coronavirus has affected life for people with complex disabilities.
Below are some of the concerns we have raised.
As part of the new Coronavirus Act, the Care Act Easements were introduced which give Local Authorities permission to change the social care they provide so they can focus on the most urgent services needed during COVID-19. However, this could include changes to essential support, like getting washed or dressed, or support taking medication or having a meal. At Sense we have serious concerns that this may see disabled people having reductions in care or not receiving care at all.
The long-term use of the Care Act Easements could have lasting damage on the social care system, the people who use it, the providers and workforce. It’s vital that Local Authorities are monitoring and recording where they decide to use the legislation. This is also important so that no one is put at risk or experiences a negative impact on their health, physical or mental well-being.
At Sense we support and represent people with complex disabilities and different communication needs. We are disappointed at the consistent failure of the Government to ensure that all information and communication about COVID-19 is accessible.
The impact of the lack of accessible communications has meant that disabled people and their families have been left confused or worried about what to do to stay safe and health. Despite Sense and other organisations reaching out to Government to ask them to make information available in British Sign Language, Easy Read or Large Print, the process has been patchy and slow.
Without these adjustments, a large community of people will not understand the messages communicated and be at significantly higher risk to themselves and their friends, family and neighbours. At Sense we have collated some useful information in accessible formats on our website.
Staying Connected in the Community
The last couple of months have meant a lot of changes for all of us, including being separated from our loved ones. For many people with complex disabilities and their families the impact of COVID-19 has meant an even greater increase in their social isolation and the barriers that prevent them from accessing their community.
There have been significant challenges accessing vital supplies like food from supermarkets because many disabled people were left off the vulnerable list for online deliveries and additional support. Now people can be referred by a Doctor, social worker, charity, or refer themselves for support. It is important that this system is used appropriately and that government, health and care services work together so that individuals who may need long term assistance during the public health crisis are given the right support to stay safe and well.
We are concerned that without funding for specialist services or access to the right care and support, many disabled people will face increased social isolation. With many individuals shielding for the coming months, and social distancing becoming the new normal, it is vital that disabled people are not excluded from their communities. Government must continue to invest in services and organisations that work to reduce social isolation, so that no one, no matter how complex their disability is left out of life during and after this public health crisis.
As our evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee explains, disabled people have already been forgotten or left out during the efforts to resolve the COVID-19 crisis. Government must recognise that there are 13.9 million disabled people living in the UK and that failing to provide the right support or services could result in more complex health needs developing, an increase in loneliness, children or young people missing out on school or families facing financial challenges. That’s why it’s vital for Government to include disabled people in their plans or discussions about the best solutions for everyone.
If you want to support Sense raise awareness of the issues affecting people with complex disabilities, please join our Campaigns Network.