Over the past few weeks we have all had our lives turned upside down. Whether directly or indirectly affected by Covid-19, we have had to change how we work, see friends and family or go about previously simple tasks like doing our food shopping or exercising. At Sense we know that this has been truer than ever for the people who we support and their families. We have had to adapt how we deliver our services, and know that changes to routine have been difficult.
As a Policy and Campaigns Team we have been working hard to ensure that Government policies and guidance are clear and take into account the needs of disabled people. This has been never more needed, and as our country moves into a potentially long term period of changes to our daily lives we have been particularly concerned that these changes work for disabled people. We know that lockdown and other restrictions have been particularly challenging and limiting for disabled people.
This week we have seen the publication of ‘Plan to Rebuild’, the Government’s plan for how we move forwards as a nation and have been reviewing what it says and means for the people who we support.
Disabled children and education
We were pleased to see that the plan has a renewed commitment to see children with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) attending school, and also highlight the wider benefits that school has. We know that the children Sense supports are missing school and that their families need more support, but many of the children also have health conditions that mean they need to shield.
‘Going to school’ might need to look different for these children, and it’s crucial that ways are found to continue to provide support to families – many of whom are struggling currently with providing care and support with no breaks or external support. This is ever more important in the light of the damning Government’s Public Accounts Committee Inquiry which highlighted last week that disabled children weren’t getting the support they needed, prior to Covid-19.
We urgently need to see more support for disabled children and their families, and will continue to call for this.
Whilst social care gets significant reference in the document, it’s purely from the perspective of how the sector can provide support to the NHS and be scaled up to facilitate the response to Covid-19. Care Homes are mentioned only in the context of older people. There is no recognition or understanding of the breadth of what social care is for many people, particularly disabled people.
Social Care existed (and was in crisis) before Covid-19 and when it works well provides independence, dignity and life for people. It is also particularly galling to see promises to expand the capacity of social care at the same time we are seeing Local Authorities enacting ‘Care Act Easements’ enabled under the Coronavirus Act and people having their rights and support removed.
We can’t sacrifice care in one part of the system because of ‘capacity demands’ and yet create capacity somewhere else, this needs to be a whole system approach.
PPE and face coverings
It is no surprise to many that suggestions of wearing face masks is going to be encouraged in more settings. At Sense, we urgently need to see guidelines and/or products which enable us to keep people clinically safe whilst also maintaining communication in our services. Masks create barriers to lipreading and other vital communication cues as well as often having triggers and negative associations for people.
As we move to see more masks being worn in public as well as in health and care settings how do we balance clinical risk with being able to connect and communicate as a society?
This is particularly key as we try to combat the isolation and loneliness that Covid-19 has only exacerbated.
Disabled people and independence
The Government plan has a clear commitment to ‘ensure people with disabilities can have independent lives are not marginalised’. It references work, transport and health outcomes. This is obviously something we broadly welcome but it needs to move further than a commitment and we need to see more detail on this.
The Government must work with disabled people and organisations to understand the issues and coproduce solutions that genuinely meet needs.
Telehealth and digital technology
Unsurprisingly, digital technology has become very popular during the pandemic and in many cases has proven to be highly beneficial. Staying connected and accessing services in new ways is obviously to be welcomed and for many disabled people has been transformative. In amongst this though we must recognise that this isn’t accessible for all and that sometimes nothing beats face to face contact so facilitating this safely should remain a priority.
All in all, the Plan to Rebuild is a start and we welcome many of the elements in it but will also be challenging others. The Sense Policy and Campaigns Team will continue to work on these issues, ensuring that as society begins to move forwards, no one is left out – no matter what.