An extensive survey, carried out by and for disabled people in Greater Manchester, has shown how the government has massively failed disabled people during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The survey was carried out by the Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel (GMDPP), which is made up of 14 disabled people’s organisations. 936 people took part, and the findings – if not all that surprising – are still pretty gruelling reading. They give a good insight into the lived experiences of disabled people during the initial stages of the pandemic and show “the impact of exclusion, inaccessibility and inequality”.
The report confirmed that:
disabled people are experiencing social isolation, reduced social care support, issues relating to access to food, medicine and information, and a severe impact on mental health.
90% of respondents said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health
GMDPP argued that:
The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on disabled people has been significant – not only with regards to accessing food, provisions, information and support, but the drastic impact of the added stress, anxiety and level of self-advocacy needed to try to survive. It is unsurprising therefore that 90% of respondents said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.
One participant said:
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I’m struggling because I live alone and my anxiety won’t let me go out much so I’ve been having half a tin of beans or spaghetti with 2 slices of toast every day because I couldn’t get access to home deliveries until today. I’ve spent 3 days in the dark because I couldn’t get out to get electric because of my mental health condition. COVID just adds to that anxiety.
76% of people were dissatisfied with the government and many felt abandoned
The report emphasised that disabled people have felt that they’re a low priority to the government, and many felt that their lives aren’t valued.
The panel stated that:
This was compounded by the initial language used to reassure the nation of the effects of Covid-19 in February and March – that the general population need not be too concerned, as it predominantly only seriously affected the so-called ‘vulnerable’: the elderly and those with underlying conditions. This language, combined with the delay in setting up support mechanisms for those needing to shield pre-national lockdown, resulted in many disabled people feeling abandoned and that their lives were not valued.
A massive 76% of the people surveyed were dissatisfied with the help that the government offered, while a third of people believed that the government “is neglecting disabled people”.
Participants were frustrated by different issues, such as the fact that the government didn’t use sign language interpreters during their public TV briefings, and that politicians’ language was too difficult to understand.
80% of respondents did not receive the ‘high risk’ letter from the government
The government criteria which determined who needed to shield from the virus also determined who received access to support. Of the respondents, 80% didn’t receive the government’s letter, which ordered ‘high risk’ people to stay at home and shield. GMDPP found that:
This left many disabled people, who knew that they should be taking extra precautions, unable to access food, medicine and support – many of these disabled people went on to receive letters as the weeks progressed, evidencing and validating their need to shield from the outset of the crisis.
And of the 80% of people who didn’t receive their shielding letter, 57% had support needs, for example, with getting food or medicines.
One participant stated that:
Supermarkets are harming disabled people, in collaboration with the government, by refusing to deliver to those of us who are housebound but don’t qualify for shielding. I’ve been trying to get a slot for a month but none are available, they won’t prioritise me because none of my official diagnoses put me at high risk from the virus.
Of the 20% who actually made it into the ‘high risk’ category, only a quarter felt that they were getting all their needs met. And it should come as no surprise that over half of the participants had difficulty accessing PPE.
15% more disability benefit claimants died in April than the previous year
More figures have shown the disgraceful inequalities that disabled people nationwide have faced throughout the pandemic.
On 2 July 2020, Disability News Service (DNS) reported more evidence on the impact of the pandemic on disabled people across the country. Government figures showed that “the proportion of disability benefit claimants who died in April was 15% higher than the previous year”.
DNS went on to say that:
The figures emerged only days after Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed disabled* females aged between nine and 64 were 11.3 times more likely to have died due to COVID-19 than non-disabled females in the same age group, while disabled males* between nine and 64 were 6.5 times more likely to have died than non-disabled males.
A ‘human catastrophe’
The pandemic was a crisis that came upon an already existing crisis of austerity that had created what the UN called a ‘human catastrophe’ for disabled people in the UK.
The report concluded:
The pandemic has come on top of the existing structural and societal exclusion, discrimination and inequality facing disabled people. It is not the virus that has caused these experiences of disabled people throughout the crisis highlighted in this report; it is the epidemic of our society’s structural exclusionary and discriminatory treatment of disabled people.
The GMDPP has made recommendations to Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham. It says he’s shown a willingness to engage in the issues raised in the report. But this isn’t just a Manchester problem. We need a complete overhaul of society – and a society where some people aren’t more expendable than others. After all, as the social model of disability says, “it is not our bodies or minds which ‘disable’ us, it is society”.
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