Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

The handling of Coronavirus continues to disadvantage those living with disabilities

Jo Smith, Correspondent, Immigration Advice Service.

The UK government’s attempts to reduce transmission and protect vulnerable individuals and public services has had a wide-reaching impact. The implementation of these measures has been controversial, particularly among those with disabilities and those working in the care sector.

Coronavirus response

The Coronavirus Act 2020 allows the government to make changes to public services including the expectations on local authorities to fulfil their social care responsibilities. There has been much discussion of the need to balance the protection of vulnerable individuals and families and the curtailment of citizens’ freedoms. However, these measures haven’t prevented a disproportionately high number of people with disabilities dying from coronavirus.

Office of National Statistics figures have revealed that 60% of all Covid deaths in England and Wales have been disabled people, although the ONS believe that this is an underestimate. Disabled females aged between 9 and 64 are dying at more than ten times the rate of the wider population.

Contributory factors

These figures have prompted concern among those with disabilities, carers and the professionals trying to keep their patients safe. Social care has been one of the most badly affected sectors, with local authorities cutting services and reducing or delaying care without replacing these systems for those who are most affected.

After the government’s initial failure to consider the impact of the virus on care homes and residential facilities for the elderly,the lack of social care provision has made fewer headlines. Those with disabilities have become an excuse for imposing increasingly draconian measures while the government is simultaneously removing their rights and denying them support or autonomy.

The prioritisation of resources left many people with significant care needs unmet. The government claimed the changes were needed to cover the lack of support workers available, whilst still implementing measures that reduce the pool of available staff. Campaigners have been protesting the restrictive conditions attached to getting a Tier 2 visa to work in the UK, that mean many care roles do not meet the criteria. With a large number of immigrants working in care, the current crisis has been worsened by the government’s failure to consider care staff in immigration policies.

Campaigning for change

The British Institute of Human Rights has spoken to those with care needs and learned that many have experienced dramatic cuts to their care provision. Their report has confirmed that all respondents were concerned about their human rights since the implementation of these measures, with more than half reporting that this meant they felt unable to raise concerns with staff. Nearly 80% of care staff said that they had had no training or information about the legal position concerning changes to care packages, and evidence from service users confirmed that they were not informed of their rights when changes were made.

It’s not uncommon for marginalised groups to suffer disproportionately when legislative changes are made, but the impact of these emergency measures has been significant. Mary Tidball, the coordinator of the Oxford University’s Disability Law and Policy Project and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, believes that there should have been an enquiry into the impact on the most vulnerable in society during the first wave of Coronavirus which could have helped when drawing up new legislation.

Without vocal advocates, it would be easy for the voices of those most significantly affected to go unheard, making it all the more important that coronavirus measures are reviewed regularly and adapted as soon as possible.

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