Six leading disabled people of colour are to play a key role in an inquiry that aims to hold the government to account for failing disabled people during the Covid pandemic.
The commission will gather evidence and examine how the worst impacts of COVID-19 fell on disabled people, and particularly on those from Black, Asian, and minoritised ethnic groups*.
Its work will focus on the experience of disabled people of Black and Asian ethnicity, based on evidence of disproportionate levels of harm during the pandemic, and the history of racial discrimination they have experienced within the health and social care systems.
The Commission on Covid-19, Disablism and Systemic Racism will be led by the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), which represents charities that work with disabled people.
VODG said that people with a learning difficulty from an Asian/Asian British background have been three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white British people with a learning difficulty.
In care homes, it said, Black and Asian people who died were more likely than white people to die with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, with 31 per cent of Black people and 30 per cent of Asian people who died in a care home having confirmed or suspected COVID-19, compared to 23 per cent of white people.
But many of VODG’s members are themselves providers of services to disabled people, including through running care homes and providing support services.
The commission’s chair, Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, promised Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday that they would not ignore any evidence that implicated service-provider charities.
He said the commission would “take the same approach with the evidence if related to charities” and would be “independent and transparent in our findings”.
He said: “I want to hear from disabled people from Black, Asian and other minoritised communities of their experience.
“We want to understand the root causes that led to our communities experiencing significant harm and loss.
“The commission is independent of service-providers, and is made of up individual accomplished commissioners with personal intersectional lived experience.”
Julie Jaye Charles, executive director of Start Change, insisted that if the commission uncovered any racism or disablism at service-provider charities during the pandemic it would not be ignored.
She said: “I would say to people that if I do smell a rat, I’d let everyone know.”
She said that any evidence relating to charities or service-providers “has to” come out through the commission’s work.
She said she had agreed to join the commission to “make a difference”, and she added: “A lot of people are accessing some of those charities and some of the charities may not be up to what we would expect for a human being.”
Amo Raju, another commissioner, and chief executive of Disability Direct, told DNS that “if there are lessons to be learnt, service-provider charities should be treated the same as any other providers”.
He said: “So far we have only had one meeting but my initial observations confirm that the project will be led by disabled people from BAME* communities who have the confidence of user-led organisations across the country.
“We are pretty much in the driving seat of the call for evidence… and all other aspects of the project.”
He said service-providers would be contacted, but the commission’s aim was to ensure that disabled people were the main source of data.
A VODG spokesperson added: “The commission is calling for a wide range of views and experiences to be shared.
“The commission will be transparent in reporting the themes and perspectives generated by this call for evidence on whatever topics are raised.”
The year-long project aims to look at the impact of long-term and “systemic” neglect of social care, the government’s “confused” approaches during the pandemic, conflicting guidance, and “poor implementation” of policy.
It will particularly “scrutinise” the actions of the Department of Health and Social Care, and how systemic racism may have further worsened outcomes for disabled people of colour.
VODG said it hoped the commission would suggest solutions that would provide “transformative and sustainable change” in social care, and that its work would feed into the COVID-19 public inquiry.
Although VODG will be leading the commission, the six commissioners will “oversee and steer” and support its work.
The other commissioners are Clenton Farquharson, chair of Think Local Act Personal and director of Community Navigator Services; Deborah Williams, an artist and consultant, and executive director of the Creative Diversity Network; and Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of The Runnymede Trust.
Mallick said: “I lived through the pandemic and experienced first-hand the impact of decisions made by government that negatively impacted on me.”
He added: “The very worst impacts of COVID-19 have fallen on disabled people and even more so on disabled people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic groups.
“The evidence cannot be ignored and compels us all to learn from these experiences, to collectively seek out solutions and identify what must change.
“I am delighted to be working together with my fellow commissioners to address these important issues and progress this critical agenda.”
Jaye Charles, whose organisation aims to address the multiple discrimination endured by intersectional communities, said she had joined the commission because she was interested in its focus on disablism and systemic racism.
She said: “The injustice these communities experience is significantly higher than non-racialised people’s experience of life in our society in the UK.”
Farquharson said he hoped the commission’s work would “point to a support system that is fairer, more inclusive, relationship-based – and above all more human – and for our recommendations and input to be taken seriously”.
The commission, which is being funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, is now urging disabled people and people with long-term health conditions from Black, Asian, and minoritised ethnic groups to share their views about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wants to hear how people were affected by the pandemic and the government’s response, including any additional challenges or harm they experienced as a disabled person from a Black, Asian or minoritised ethnic group.
But it also wants to hear what should have been done differently, and what needs to change to tackle inequality and discrimination and prevent further harm for those communities.
The deadline for submissions is 5pm on Friday 30 September.
*Black, Asian and minority ethnic
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