“Devastating” new official figures showing how many disabled people have died from coronavirus demonstrate that the government has violated its obligation to protect their right to life, says a leading disabled expert.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show disabled people have made up about three-fifths of COVID-related deaths in England and Wales, although ONS admits this is likely to be an under-estimate*.
In all, there were more than 27,500 coronavirus-related deaths of disabled people between 2 March and 14 July, compared with about 18,800 of non-disabled people.
The figures also show that younger disabled males (those “limited a lot” in daily life and aged between nine and 64) were 6.5 times more likely to have died due to COVID-19 than non-disabled males.
Disabled females between nine and 64 were even more at risk, in comparison with non-disabled females in the same age group, with a rate of death 10.8 times higher.
Dr Marie Tidball (pictured, centre), coordinator of Oxford University’s Disability Law and Policy Project, said the “devastating” ONS figures confirmed that the government had violated its obligation to protect disabled people’s right to life, under article two of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Despite the violation, and the disproportionate number of deaths, she said, the government had failed to order an inquiry to investigate fully the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people, and the scale and causes of coronavirus-related deaths during the first wave of the pandemic.
She said: “This is despite the fact that this week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights raised concerns that ‘decision-making relating to admission to hospital, in particular critical care, for adults with COVID-19 has discriminated against older and disabled people’.”
She added: “Urgent action is needed, therefore, by government, to prevent a second wave of deaths and fulfil its duties under article two of the ECHR, including producing a disability-inclusive COVID-19 response and recovery action plan.”
Mike Smith (right), the former disability commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now chief executive of the east London disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “The numbers that came out last time from the ONS were shocking enough, yet few parts of the media picked up on this story.
“It feels like there is a collective acceptance that disabled people will die because that’s ‘just what is to be expected’.
“But it’s the role of our government to step in and address this, not ignore it.
“It is absolutely essential that a more detailed understanding of the issues disabled people experience, and what can be done to address them, is carried out during this second wave to minimise unnecessary deaths of disabled people.”
Ian Jones, from WOWcampaign, said the prime minister and his fellow “clowns” in government “continue to follow a ‘one size fits all’ strategy to control COVID-19, unless you are Dominic Cummings or a party of grouse-shooters.
“With two-thirds of deaths being disabled people, if they valued us, they would implement specific policies to try to save our lives.”
Fazilet Hadi (left), head of policy for Disability Rights UK, said: “As winter approaches, we need government to act, to prevent another wave of disproportionately high deaths among disabled people.
“We need our Care Act rights restored (see separate story). We need additional funding for social care.
“We need disabled people wherever they live to be supported by safe care workers, with full access to personal protective equipment and testing.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the disabled people’s and service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the figures highlighted the importance of continuing, accurate data about disabled people’s deaths during the pandemic.
He pointed also to the government’s “conflicting official messages” throughout the pandemic and its failure to safeguard disabled people, both those in the care system and those under lock-down in their own homes.
He said disabled people were “bearing the brunt of this confused and inadequate political response, dying and suffering disproportionately even when all statistical adjustments are made to the figures”.
He said: “We can have no confidence in this government’s approach to handling this medical emergency.
“A cross-party response is now urgently required and should be agreed by the prime minister.”
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These heart-breaking figures show how urgent it is for the government to listen to disabled people and act on what they say.
“Ministers must urgently review the steps they are taking to protect disabled people, especially in light of a potential second spike.”
The ONS figures also show that there were 808 COVID-related deaths of disabled females aged from 9 to 64, and 1,066 deaths of disabled men in the same age group.
For those 65 and over, men limited a lot were 2.4 times more likely to die a COVID-related death than non-disabled men of the same age group, and women were 3.1 times more likely to die than non-disabled women of the same age group.
Once social factors, such as the part of the country where someone lived, the population density of their local area, how well-off they were, and their living and working conditions are all taken into account, the risk of a COVID-related death falls slightly.
ONS stressed that these figures have been calculated in a different way to the other statistics and so cannot be directly compared, and there are no such figures for those aged nine to 64.
Disabled males who were limited a lot were 2.9 times more likely to die than non-disabled males, after adjusting for age.
Once the social factors are taken into account – and using this different method of calculation, so not directly comparable – the ONS figures show that disabled males limited a lot were 2.0 times more likely to die through COVID.
Disabled females who were limited a lot were 3.9 times more likely to die than non-disabled females, after adjusting for age.
One all the social factors are taken into account – and again using the different method of calculation, so not directly comparable – the figures show that disabled females limited a lot were 2.4 times more likely to die through COVID.
Previous figures released by ONS in June – and covering the period from 2 March to 15 May – showed similar rates of COVID-related deaths among disabled people, who again made up 59 per cent of all coronavirus deaths.
*The ONS figures examine the impact of the pandemic on those in England and Wales who described themselves as disabled people in the 2011 census, either by saying they were “limited a little” in their daily lives or “limited a lot”. This means that disabled children under the age of nine are not covered by the new figures, which also do not take account of those who have become disabled over the last nine years. Therefore, the figures probably underestimate the number of disabled people who have died
**For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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