The fall out from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic may well be far-reaching. But sick and disabled people are being hit particularly hard. Now, a strategy to effectively improve their lives has also been put on hold. And it’s happening after these individuals were already subject to “grave” and “systematic” violations of their human rights for a decade.
A “Disability Strategy”
On Thursday 2 April, the Cabinet Office’s Disability Unit published a statement. It’s supposed to be working on a “National Strategy for Disabled People”. This was previously announced in the Queen’s Speech after the Conservative’s won the 2019 general election.
As Disability News Service (DNS) reported, the strategy would:
be published later this year , and the government said it would be ‘ambitious’ and would support disabled people ‘in all aspects and phases of their life’ including housing, transport and education.
There will also be a green paper looking at how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its benefits system ‘can best help disabled people’.
Now, the Disability Unit has released more details.
On the back burner
It says the strategy will:
- “Develop a positive and clear vision on disability which is owned right across government”.
- “Make practical changes to policies which strengthen disabled people’s ability to participate fully in society”.
- “Ensure lived experience underpins policies by identifying what matters most to disabled people”.
- “Strengthen the ways in which we listen to disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, using these insights to drive real change”.
- “Improve the quality of evidence and data and use it to support policies and how we deliver them”.
But the Disability Unit has effectively said that the strategy has now been put on hold. It said:
As the coronavirus pandemic is the current priority for the government, we are reviewing our plans for the development of the strategy. We want to ensure we have enough time to get this right and undertake a full and appropriate programme of stakeholder engagement.
An effective strategy for sick and disabled people is needed right now. Because currently there doesn’t seem to be one.
Sick and disabled people are facing even more misery due to coronavirus. From being subject to forced Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notices, to being even more isolated than they were previously – many people are being hit hard by the pandemic. The social care sector is also in crisis, directly impacting many disabled people with high support needs.
So far, government bodies like the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been in chaos. Therefore, while understandable, putting the strategy on the back burner may not be wise in the short or long term. Action is quickly needed, and the Disability Strategy could have helped deliver that.
But it’s what’s happened to sick and disabled people over the past decade that’s of real concern. Because ultimately, while government action is needed, it also begs the question whether anything the Tories do will be in the best interests of sick and disabled people.
The DWP: central to people’s misery
Life for sick and disabled people in the UK has severely deteriorated since 2010. For example, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a benefit for sick and disabled people. It’s supposed to help with their extra costs if they live with illnesses or impairments. But PIP has been dogged by controversy. From stealth real-terms cuts, to huge rates of successful appeals, the benefit is a shambles. Also, around 12 people a day die waiting for the DWP’s decision on their PIP.
Meanwhile, the department itself is in a constant state of scandal. From destroying reports into claimant deaths, to not collecting data on the mortality rate under its new benefit Universal Credit, the DWP’s reputation has been severely tarnished over recent years. Perhaps most damning in this is that claimants have repeatedly had to take the DWP to court to try and get it to admit its wrongdoing.
Staggering poverty and isolation
All this builds a bleak picture – particularly for those in poverty. As Disability Rights UK noted:
- “6.8 million people in poverty are living in families that include a disabled adult or child. This means that nearly half (48%) of people in poverty live in a family where someone is disabled”.
- “Poverty rates are higher for people living in families that include a disabled adult or child (28%) than they are for people living in families where no one is disabled (19%)”.
- “More than four in ten people (41%) living in a family that includes both a disabled adult and child are living in poverty”.
And if all this wasn’t enough, sick and disabled people face even more hostility in wider society. Hate crime rose repeatedly in the last decade; much of the UK’s public transport is still not fully accessible; the disability employment gap barely moved in the 2010’s, and disabled people are still sorely unrepresented in the arts.
But perhaps the most damning assessment on successive governments treatment of sick and disabled people came from the UN. Because it summed up everything that government and society has put sick and disabled people through in the past ten years.
“Grave” and “systematic” human rights violations
The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has reported twice since November 2016 on life for disabled people in the UK. The Canary covered each of the reports in full. The UN said successive Conservative-led governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
The chair of the UNCRPD said that the government and the media “have some responsibility” for society seeing disabled people as “parasites, living on social benefits… and [living on] the taxes of other people”. She said these “very, very dangerous” attitudes could “lead to violence… and if not, to killings and euthanasia”. And she urged the government to “stop” this.
The government denied there were any major issues. And the DWP effectively whitewashed the reports. Yet the government still felt the need to commission the Disability Strategy. And now, it’s putting it on the back burner due to coronavirus.
Kicking sick and disabled people off the bottom rungs of society
But the real concern will be in the aftermath of all this. Will sick and disabled people be last on the list of people who need additional support?
The Conservative’s track record in government indicates they probably will be. And even with a Disability Strategy, it seems unlikely things will change that much for sick and disabled people living in the UK. And it’s the message that delaying the strategy sends out which is most damning. Because despite “grave” and “systematic” human rights violations, the government has learned nothing. Sick and disabled people were already clinging on for their lives at the bottom of society. Now, the government has effectively kicked that ladder away.
Featured image via The Canary
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