The agility and versatility of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across England has helped them deliver vital support to disabled people during the pandemic, according to new user-led research.
A report on the first stage of the National Lottery-funded project found that local councils, health bodies and larger charities often relied on DPOs to reach those “hardest hit” by the COVID-19 crisis.
It says that DPOs often had more “strength and versatility” than other organisations, which allowed them to continue working and providing their services during the pandemic.
The report says: “For some DPOs there has been an increase in Local Authority recognition, in recognition that they are the best placed organisations to meet the needs of the local disabled population.”
It contrasts this with the big disability charities, many of which faced a loss of income as their charity shops were forced to close and their fundraising activities had to stop, which caused “negative impacts on service delivery”.
The report adds: “This pandemic has really brought to the fore the value of lived experience leaders and their organisations.”
It suggests that because disabled people often have to “navigate difficult processes in their daily lives”, the ability to deal with these barriers “can mean that organisations run and controlled by disabled people are able to negotiate through the pandemic by being responsive, agile and inclusive”.
One DPO said it had provided three councils with “front-line access” to disabled people receiving direct payments; supported the creation of self-directed support plans; created risk appraisals for existing care packages; completed welfare checks on behalf of its largest local authority; and was responsible for ensuring personal assistants could access vaccinations in its region.
The research by Disability Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly saw 36 DPOs respond to a survey about their experiences during the pandemic, with 27 of them also sharing their thoughts at online events.
The survey results suggest that DPOs have experienced no significant loss of staff during the pandemic, although there has been a sharp drop in disabled volunteers.
But it did find that most of the DPOs questioned (26 of 35 who answered the question) had funding concerns about their future sustainability.
Most of the DPOs did not use the government’s job furlough scheme, with only eight out of 36 saying they currently had staff furloughed.
The report also says that use of the Zoom online meeting service appears to have become a “staple” for how DPOs work, both with their own staff and with clients.
All but one of the DPOs said they had started delivering existing projects and services in new ways during the pandemic, including through Zoom, social media, or by providing online support.
And 14 of the DPOs said they had developed new “wellbeing” services, such as digital inclusion projects, mental health and peer support, befriending services, and prescription and food parcel deliveries.
But the report also warns that many of the projects that DPOs can no longer operate because of the pandemic are social and leisure services, and those that rely on human contact, which will be “a major problem for some groups of disabled people”.
Dr Theo Blackmore, project manager for the research, said: “The project grew from a recognition that there are over 100 DPOs across England, many of which are working in isolation from other DPOs, and which therefore have very few opportunities to share experiences or to learn from others dealing with the same issues.
“These organisations offer a lifeline to many thousands of disabled people through the services they provide, and yet often operate on a funding knife-edge.
“I was concerned about the effects of the pandemic on these organisations, their buildings and the services they provide.”
He added: “I would hope that this work provides a foundation for the creation of a strong network of DPOs, in contact with each other to provide mutual support and learning.”
The next stage of the two-year project will provide a programme of peer support, bringing DPOs together online to share their experiences and their solutions.
*For more information about the project, email: [email protected]
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…