Disabled people have highlighted gaps in social security support, flaws in the shielding system and worries about access to vaccines, after they were asked to describe their concerns as England entered its third national coronavirus lockdown*.
They raised scores of different issues, ranging from worries about the accessibility of the vaccination programme to the need to expand the shielding scheme and the government’s failure to provide sufficient financial support through disability benefits.
The most frequently raised single concern was the failure of ministers to match the £20 per week uplift given to universal credit claimants early in the pandemic with a similar sum for those who remain on “legacy” benefits such as employment and support allowance.
One of those raising concerns on Twitter said of this failure: “It’s blatant disability discrimination and DWP has now had 10 months to make the necessary changes to their IT to make this happen.
“That it hasn’t happened is clearly a political choice.”
The area that sparked most responses was the shielding system, and particularly concerns about access to food through the new lockdown, with many others calling for the health conditions and impairments that qualify someone to be included in the shielding group to be expanded.
Disabled writer and musician Nicole Eloise said on Twitter that many disabled people had been “left out of shielding measures when we shouldn’t have been”, which meant neither she nor her father – who are both at enhanced risk from the virus – had had any support through the pandemic.
And disabled campaigner Aisha Malik-Smith said: “Ultimately it seems shielding households have been forced to chose between retaining an income to survive and their… lives.
“Can only imagine how impossible the situation has been for young shielders in house shares or [houses in multiple occupation].”
The responses came in reply to a social media message sent out by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, who had appealed for disabled and shielding people to suggest issues they would like her to raise in yesterday’s House of Commons debate on the government’s new lockdown regulations.
More than 250 people responded with suggestions via Twitter.
Disability News Service has analysed the responses that appeared to come directly from disabled people in an attempt to sketch a picture of the continuing gaps in the government’s COVID-19 response.
The biggest area of concern appears to be around the vaccine programme, with more than 30 disabled people highlighting issues, particularly over the speed of the rollout to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to the virus.
Disabled activist Caroline Richardson asked Foxcroft to try to confirm whether everyone who was on the shielded list would be in the first four groups to be vaccinated, and therefore “eligible for the first batch of vaccinations timetabled for January and February”.
She said: “Many have been isolated for 10 months, and suffering physical and mental deterioration.”
There were 28** concerns raised by disabled people about benefits, nine about the government’s failure to provide accessible information throughout the pandemic, seven about education (although further concerns were raised by parents with disabled children).
There were 14 comments about the need to provide more protection for disabled people who need to shield through the “furlough” scheme and for self-employed disabled people.
Another five asked how the new rules on exercising outside would affect disabled people, and a similar number raised concerns about the accessibility of NHS services and whether disabled people would face discrimination in accessing medical treatment as pressure on the NHS increases.
There were concerns raised about social care, including the shortage of support workers, the failure of councils to support disabled people on direct payments, and a call to suspend charging for council care services during the pandemic.
Six disabled people raised concerns about the services provided by supermarkets, particularly with their home deliveries.
Yesterday’s Commons debate lasted four hours and 20 minutes, and Foxcroft appears to have been one of just six MPs to mention disabled people, although a number of others referenced the impact of the pandemic on mental health.
In her allocated three minutes, and speaking virtually from her home, Foxcroft, who herself has a long-term health condition, told MPs that disabled people had “felt forgotten throughout this pandemic”.
She said: “In reading the updated regulations, I can see that no assessment of the impact of lockdown on disabled people has taken place. That must change.
“Disabled people must be central to our decision making, not an afterthought.”
Among the other issues she raised were the failure to provide an on-platform British Sign Language interpreter at government briefings; delays in sending out shielding letters; and the failure to provide updated and accessible guidance for shielders.
She also highlighted the continued failure to uplift legacy benefits by £20 a week.
**These figures are approximate as it was not always clear whether those replying to Foxcroft identify as disabled people
***For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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