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Paralympics reminds us of the progress still needed to improve the lives of disabled people

3 min read

Far too many disabled people have felt overlooked at every step of the Covid response. Without government action, we risk going backwards on the progress we have made towards equality.

I have always loved the Olympics. I remember the excitement and build up for the Munich Games in 1972 – how it lasted for years. The atmosphere, the diversity of sports and the inclusive spirit makes it a joy to watch.

When the Olympics came to London, I was reminded of that excitement I felt as a child. Team GB did not disappoint.

But it was the Paralympics I found truly moving. The Paralympians inspired and amazed us all. It has been fantastic to see how coverage of para-sports has increased since then.

WeThe15 is a new campaign, launched this year, to use sport as a catalyst for change. It is a global movement to end disability discrimination, by striving for visibility, accessibility and inclusion. Events like the Paralympics are hugely powerful vehicles for engaging audiences, raising awareness, and improving representation.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown why campaigns like this are still necessary.

We have come a long way since the Disability Discrimination Act was passed over 25 years ago. That landmark piece of legislation established – for the first time – the civil rights of disabled people in the UK.

The National Disability Strategy lacked the focus it needs to bring about real change

But with an increasing volume of research highlighting the disproportionate impact of Covid on people with disabilities, we cannot afford to be complacent.

The impact goes beyond the direct effects of the virus. More and more disabled people are facing financial insecurity. A higher proportion have reported feeling isolated and anxious. Many disability-specific health services were deemed “non-essential” and closed during lockdown.

The government’s response has been far from reassuring. From the “do not attempt to resuscitate” orders, to the lack of British Sign Language interpreters in Covid briefings, to delayed and confusing guidance to those shielding, far too many disabled people have felt overlooked at every step of the Covid response.

This is simply unacceptable. Without government action, we risk going backwards on the progress we have made towards equality.

Take employment. Disabled workers earn, on average, £2.10 less per hour than their non-disabled colleagues. In 2020, the disability employment gap – the difference in employment rate of people with and without disabilities – was 28.1 per cent. That gap has slowly decreased over the last decade, but it is not good enough. Now, the pandemic puts us at risk of going backwards on that trend.

For too long, those with disabilities have struggled to obtain secure employment. Covid has intensified that struggle, with disabled people disproportionately affected by furlough, reduced hours and redundancies.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to lift the unjust barriers that exclude disabled people from the workplace. We need a Jobs Guarantee for newly unemployed disabled people, specialist disability employment support, and a day one right for disabled people to work from home if they want to.

‘Build Back Better’ has become the government’s new favourite three-word slogan as we look toward life after the pandemic. The new National Disability Strategy was the perfect opportunity to show that building back better also means building back fairer.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming response from disability campaigners and experts was that the strategy lacked the focus it needs to bring about real change.

A truly inclusive recovery not only means recognising the inequalities faced by disabled people. It means centering their voices in policy planning, particularly in the areas of social care, housing, education and health.

So, as we celebrate the achievements of our incredible Paralympians in Tokyo, let us not forget the progress that is needed in the everyday lives of disabled people.


Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath.

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