This has been a hard year for disabled people. We must do better in 2021
This year has been a monumental year for disability rights, with the UK celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. As we approach the end of Disability History Month, it’s crucial to not only reflect on the progress we have made but also to assess what more needs to be done over the next few years.
There are over 14 million people living with a disability in the UK. People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the country, and while minority and vulnerable groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, disabled people have largely been forgotten in this time of crisis. They are the invisible victims of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, accounting for 6 out of 10 deaths involving COVID-19 (ONS) and, 59% of disabled people surveyed by Scope admit feeling forgotten by the Government’s response to the pandemic.
The pandemic has clearly heightened the need for a greater understanding of disabilities, both in politics and in broader society. Given the unprecedented year we have had, this understanding should start with a disability-inclusive COVID-19 response which would include:
• Accessible communications, with ministerial statements and all government communications being made available in a range of formats, including BSL.
• A mindful approach to social distancing exemptions
• Renewal of access to support/care provision under the Care Act 2014
• A disability-inclusive economic recovery plan.
The APPG for Disability wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister back in April, urging the Government to ensure its response was inclusive, and the Prime Minister responded by committing to a “transformative” National Strategy for Disabled People.
This strategy will launch next year, and I hope that elements of an Inclusive COVID-19 response are not only fulfilled but maintained beyond the pandemic and included in the forthcoming strategy.
Accessible communications should be the norm, not just in times of crisis, and I hope this is acknowledged in the new year.
The economic recovery plan is a further opportunity in which the Government has to make a substantial difference to the lives of disabled people, and this must be echoed in the upcoming strategy. According to Disability Rights UK and the JRF, nearly half of everyone in poverty is either a disabled person or lives with a disabled person, and recent research from Citizens Advice shows 1 in 4 disabled people have reported being at risk or are in the process of being made redundant.
Therefore, it is vital people with disabilities are not excluded from COVID-19 relief packages, but infact, receive tailored support. It’s also imperative the Government champions new mechanisms to enable disabled people to start their own businesses, which will help us move away from the narrative of “welfare” that has for so long been synonymous with disabilities and move towards a narrative of entrepreneurship and creativity.
The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, and we must now recognise this and ensure the Government delivers a “transformative” National Strategy for Disabled People.
Dr Lisa Cameron MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Health.