Disabled women have described how the COVID-19 crisis has forced them to increase their dependence on others and has placed them more at risk of domestic abuse, while the need for social isolation has increased their levels of mental distress.
Their concerns have been collected in a paper by the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, which focuses on the “intersectional” impact of the COVID-19 crisis on disabled women as both disabled people and as women.
Among the concerns raised are access to food, support and health services, and the impact on disabled mothers, domestic violence and employment, the rights of disabled women, and on disabled women in prison and detention.
The paper has been submitted to MPs as part of the inquiry by the Commons women and equalities committee into the impact of the pandemic on groups – including women and disabled people – who are protected under the Equality Act.
The paper points out that disabled women are likely to be disproportionately affected by the rising number of deaths in care homes, with potentially more than 22,000 deaths of care home residents in England and Wales now linked to COVID-19.
It points to Office for National Statistics figures from 2014 which showed that, in 2011, almost three-quarters of the care home population aged over 65 were women.
The paper also raises concerns about the impact of the crisis on disabled mothers.
One new disabled mother described how the pandemic meant she had not been able to have the usual post-natal appointment with an epilepsy nurse.
She said: “I’m not being monitored at all. I’m not getting my postnatal check up and although his vaccinations are planned to go ahead they said that could change.
“He isn’t registered as being born either.”
L, the disabled mother of a disabled son, said her son’s two preferred care workers were in lockdown in Poland, while they had had to turn down a potential replacement because they lived in a house with seven other people in a high-risk part of the country.
L said: “Not knowing whether he’d be allowed treatment or refused an [intensive care unit] bed is adding to my fears.
“As a disabled mother I am also worried that I might not be able to care for him myself even if there was no other alternative.”
Fiona Anderson, of Enabled2Parent, told Sisters of Frida that social services departments were failing to prioritise disabled parents for support.
She said: “Many disabled parents rely on their child being at school or nursery immensely to allow them to recharge.
“Not having a rest causes their symptoms of their condition to worsen, frequent falls and feeling like they’re failing their child through increased pain and fatigue making them unable to do quality time activities and adequate home schooling.”
And an advocate at a disabled people’s organisation told Sisters of Frida: “I am supporting two female clients who have learning difficulties, both of these clients’ children are subject to care proceedings.
“Their children are currently not living with them. Before the lock down, they were still having contact in a contact centre supervised.
“Since the lock down, they have not been allowed to have contact due to contact centres being closed.”
Another key issue highlighted by the paper is the impact of the crisis on disabled women’s independence and control over their lives.
Dr Sarabajaya Kumar, a Women’s Equality Party candidate for the now-postponed London Assembly elections, said: “We all feel uncomfortable with the lack of certainty – disabled and non-disabled alike – but as a disabled woman I have felt Covid-19 has meant I have also lost what little control/agency I had, because of the strict, albeit necessary, requirements of ensuring I and my family and the NHS are safe.
“In other words, my dependence on others seems to have increased; and that has put strain on me and other family members.”
The paper also points out that disabled women are between three and four times more likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women.
There has already been “a dramatic increase in calls to domestic violence helplines and support services during the coronavirus crisis”, the paper says, while many women “will find it much harder to flee dangerous situations, or to find the refuges and services they need to make that decision”.
This will affect most those who have already struggled to access support and justice, says Sisters of Frida, such as disabled women, black, Asian and minority ethnic women, and migrant women.
Stay Safe East, a user-led, London-based organisation which supports Deaf and disabled survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and has been working on amendments to the government’s domestic abuse bill, said COVID-19 restrictions had been causing extra problems for its clients.
Stay Safe East says women with learning difficulties no longer have one-to-one access to advocates, deaf women are facing further communication barriers, and advocates working from home are finding to harder to support their disabled clients.
The paper concludes that there is “a common thread running through all the disabled women’s stories shared with us, that social isolation during this pandemic is causing psychological distress”.
And it calls on the government to seek the input of disabled people’s organisations, including disabled women’s organisations, on all policies during the crisis, and carry out equality impact assessments on all its COVID-19 policies.
*Links to sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
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