The government’s discriminatory response to the pandemic led to disabled people facing a greater risk of death and other harm, the Covid public inquiry has been told by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
In a statement to a preliminary hearing yesterday (Wednesday), four national DPOs said this discrimination by the “political and administrative” establishment led to disabled people facing problems obtaining food, isolation from essential services, and a greater risk of contracting the virus.
All this was “compounded by lack of accessible communication and information”, the inquiry heard.
Barrister Danny Friedman, speaking on behalf of Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Action Northern Ireland, told the inquiry (PDF): “Fundamentally the political and administrative response to the pandemic has excluded disabled people.
“Either no thought has been given to them or thought given has been inadequate or too late.”
He added: “For them, the significant issue in the fusion of science and government that generated Covid policy is that none of it contained disability specialists, service providers, subject matter experts or end users.”
And he said the official acknowledgement that disabled people were significantly more likely to die from COVID-19 – and the response to this – was “either belated or insufficient”.
He described this as a “basic failure of human accounting”.
The four DPOs said that key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should be key to the inquiry’s work, including article 11, which requires governments to take “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety” of disabled people “in situations of risk” such as “humanitarian emergencies”.
Organisations run by disabled people should have been consulted more often during the pandemic, they said.
Friedman told the inquiry: “It is of overall benefit to the well-being of society if it can happen now.”
He said that the absence of expert advice and consultation with disabled people and disability service-providers “resulted in failures of foresight of some of the most isolating and resource-impoverishing” experiences of lockdown.
These included problems obtaining food and other resources, which led to “hunger and degrading treatment”; failures in provision of social care; “insufficient access to information”; and “inadequate protection of individuals in social care settings”.
Friedman said the co-production that failed to happen during the pandemic must now take place during the inquiry.
His comments, on behalf of the four DPOs, were made at the second preliminary hearing of the inquiry’s second module, which will examine political and administrative decision-making of the UK and devolved governments during the pandemic.
The four DPOs have been given core participant status in this second module.
Baroness [Heather] Hallett, the inquiry’s chair, insisted yesterday that equalities would be “at the forefront of the inquiry’s work”.
She said: “The only question is how we ensure we investigate inequalities properly and we investigate properly the disproportionate number of deaths in particular groups and communities.”
The hearing came as former health and social care secretary Matt Hancock faced allegations that he dismissed expert advice to test everyone entering a care home for coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, after WhatsApp messages he sent were leaked to the Daily Telegraph. Hancock has called the reports “categorically untrue”.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said after yesterday’s inquiry hearing: “Almost 60 per cent of those who died in the pandemic were disabled people and millions of disabled people experienced hardship and isolation and were left unsupported and unprotected.
“The Covid public inquiry needs to hear the voices of disabled people, listen to our evidence and testimony and ensure that lessons are learnt for the future.”
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said the pandemic exposed “deep-seated inequalities in society, with laws that had been introduced to protect the rights of disabled people failing to do so when most needed.”
In Wales, 68 per cent of Covid-related deaths were of disabled people, but Davies said there had been “nothing inevitable” about this high death rate.
She said: “It is therefore vital that the COVID-19 inquiry ensures justice for all who lost their lives or found themselves fighting for their very existence.”
Nuala Toman, head of policy for Disability Action Northern Ireland, said the experience of disabled people “must be at the heart of the Covid-19 inquiry”.
She said: “It is important lessons are identified and learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Never again should disabled people have to experience hunger, degrading treatment, social isolation, the collapse of social care and barriers in accessing routine health services.”
Inclusion Scotland said the pandemic “continues to be catastrophic for disabled people and we are still dealing with the consequences of the policy decisions made by people who often have little or no regard for our needs and views.
“We look forward to finding out why this happened and continues to happen, and to getting accountability via the UK Covid-19 Inquiry so that lessons are learned and disabled people are never again put in this situation.”
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