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Wed, 20 January 2021

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By Baroness Young
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To support disabled people better, there is no doubt we must do more to support their carers

To support disabled people better, there is no doubt we must do more to support their carers

I know how important it is for families to get the support they need, and I’ve seen how this pandemic is making caring so much more difficult, writes Ed Davey MP. | PA Images

5 min read

It is simply unsustainable and unacceptable to rely more and more on unpaid carers. Government must plug the £4-billion-plus hole in adult social care budgets, and work cross-party to agree a long-term solution for social care

The Covid crisis is taking an enormous toll on people across the UK. But on International Day of People with Disabilities it is right that we focus on the devastating impact this pandemic is having on many disabled people.

The starkest and most tragic impact, of course, is the horrifying numbers of disabled people whose lives have been cut short by this pandemic. According to the ONS, there were 27,500 Covid-related deaths of disabled people between the beginning of March and the middle of July – a shocking 59% of all Covid-related deaths in that period.

A more recent review by Public Health England found that, during the first wave, people with learning disabilities died from Covid at around six times the rate of the general population. Many of these have been the victims of the government’s abject failure to protect people in care homes, from the lack of tests and PPE to the lies that Ministers had put a “protective ring” around care homes.

The pandemic has harmed disabled people in other ways too. Many have seen their access to medical treatment reduced – often because they aren’t able to travel to the hospital or the GP surgery. Many have been cut off from care services they rely on, with day care centres shut and many people understandably fearful of having people come into their homes – including domiciliary care workers.

We still have much further to go to uphold disabled people’s rights to health and care, to work, and – most fundamental of all – to dignity

As a carer for my disabled son, I understand just how hard caring can be, even at the best of times.I know how important it is for families to get the support they need, and I’ve seen how this pandemic is making caring so much more difficult. According to the Disabled Children’s Partnership, three quarters of families with disabled children had their care stopped altogether during lockdown.

That was the main reason the Liberal Democrats voted against renewal of the government’s Coronavirus Act in September, because it waters down people’s rights to care. It relaxes the duties on local authorities to assess and meet the care needs of elderly, disabled and vulnerable people – even though the Government itself said there is currently no need to do so.

For many disabled people, family members and close friends have heroically stepped in to help. Millions have joined the ranks of unpaid carers, which were already nine million strong before Covid struck. And most of those who were already unpaid carers are spending more time looking after loved ones during the pandemic.

Unpaid carers are doing a remarkable and important job in very difficult circumstances. To support disabled people better, there is no doubt that we must do more to support their carers too. That’s why, last week, I was proud to launch the new Liberal Democrat campaign to stand up for carers, with a call on the Government to raise Carer’s Allowance by £1,000 a year, now.

It is simply unsustainable and unacceptable to rely more and more on unpaid carers and leave disabled people without the services they need. The government must give councils the funding and guidance to reopen day centres and restore domiciliary care. More than that, it must plug the immediate £4-billion-plus hole in adult social care budgets, and work cross-party to agree a long-term, sustainable solution for social care, with proper funding.

I fervently hope we can build a more caring society as we emerge from this pandemic. And I hope we can change fundamental attitudes towards disability too – especially when it comes to the world of work.

The Covid pandemic is causing extreme financial hardship for thousands of families, and disabled people have been disproportionately affected – whether through being furloughed, having their hours reduced, being unable to return to work or being made redundant. A new survey by Leonard Cheshire found that one in five employers say they are less likely to employ a disabled person.

So the government must do far more, with both new requirements for employers – such as making flexible working a day-one right and introducing mandatory reporting on disability employment rates – and extra support, such as improving the “Access to Work” scheme and providing better guidance.

As we grapple with the unemployment crisis that Covid is causing, the government must bring forward a targeted strategy to support disabled people into work.

The UK has come a long way on disability rights, with the Disability Discrimination Act 25 years ago and the Equality Act ten years ago in particular. But, as the Covid pandemic has exposed, we still have much further to go to uphold disabled people’s rights to health and care, to work, and – most fundamental of all – to dignity.

 

Ed Davey is the Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton and leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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