Disabled people have experienced social isolation, cuts to support, and problems accessing food, medicine and information during the pandemic crisis, according to a new survey of hundreds of disabled people.
Comments made by disabled people who took part in the survey – carried out by 14 disabled people’s organisations – were described as an “outpouring of fear, isolation and people in crisis”.
One said they felt “cut off and in a state of despair”, another that “without any support, I’m afraid I will be yet another disabled person statistic who neglected themselves”.
Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel (pictured) conducted the survey to show the impact of the pandemic on disabled people across Greater Manchester.
The results show that, as the panel’s members had predicted, disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis.
They have faced “multiple areas of disadvantage, exclusion and unnecessary risk”, while unequal access to food, medical supplies, support and information “created crisis situations for many disabled people, which compounded the issues of the pandemic itself”.
But this impact came on top of “existing structural and societal exclusion, discrimination and inequality”, the panel said.
“The pandemic has not been the great leveller, it has been a stark spotlight on the drastic social, economic and equalities divide in this country,” it added.
The panel concluded in its report: “The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on disabled people has been significant – not only with regards to accessing food, provisions, information and support, but the drastic impact of the added stress, anxiety and level of self-advocacy needed to try to survive.
“It is unsurprising therefore that 90 per cent of respondents said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.”
But it also concluded that this impact was not inevitable or unavoidable, and that through “real, tangible changes we can prevent it from happening again”.
Hundreds of disabled people across Greater Manchester took part in the Greater Manchester Big Disability Survey.
Three-quarters of those who took part were unhappy with the support provided by the government, with one-third saying they believed the government was neglecting disabled people.
One of the respondents said: “I usually do my shopping online [but] due to covid I haven’t been able to get any slots so have had to go to the supermarket and being blind I had to take my dad with me.
“We are both high risk but had no choice but to go out as we could not get a delivery.”
A disabled woman who responded to the survey said she was “housebound” but did not qualify for the government’s shielding list and had not been able to have any food delivered and would soon have to ask for help on a local Facebook group.
She said she was “terrified” of doing this “because it’s incredibly dangerous for a disabled woman living alone to publicly point out to complete strangers that I’m desperate and vulnerable”.
In all, more than 900 respondents across Greater Manchester’s 10 local authority areas took part, including more than 250 who completed an easy read version of the survey.
One of the groups impacted most seriously by the pandemic response, says the report, has been those disabled people who have had to shield from the virus but were not included on the government’s initial list of those said to be “clinically extremely vulnerable” to the virus.
Of those who had support needs but did not receive a letter from the government placing them on the list, one in 10 said they were having none of their needs met, while only one in five said they were having all their needs met, including access to food and medicine.
Nearly a third (31 per cent) of respondents to the standard survey were unaware of the existence of community hubs, set up in boroughs across the country to co-ordinate food parcels, medicine and other support.
Of more than 500 respondents who commented on their need for personal protective equipment, nearly three-fifths (57 per cent) had experienced problems sourcing it.
Among its recommendations, the panel calls for disabled people’s organisations to be involved in all levels of decision-making, and for the government to recognise disabled people’s right to independent living.
It also wants to see all public bodies that provide services to disabled people in Greater Manchester to carry out – with disabled people’s involvement – assessments of the impact on equality of their responses to the pandemic.
And it calls for action to reach those disabled people with no internet access or IT skills due to issues with accessibility or poverty, and to ensure information is provided in an accessible format to all disabled people.
The panel also calls for action to develop a BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] disabled people’s organisation (DPO) in Greater Manchester, following an under-representation (eight per cent) of BAME disabled people in the survey responses.
It also calls for a DPO to be set up and funded in each of the four Greater Manchester council areas – Bolton, Bury, Oldham and Trafford – which currently do not have one.
The panel is convened by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), and its members are all disabled people’s organisations.
Nicola McDonagh, GMCDP’s manager, said the survey results showed a “predictable, unsurprising but most importantly preventable” impact on disabled people.
She said the results had reflected the panel’s “existing experience, knowledge and understanding of how the pandemic and its subsequent lockdown were disproportionately affecting disabled people, leaving many struggling to access food, medicine, personal protective equipment and support”
McDonagh added: “The panel’s message to the government is this: from the onset of this global pandemic, disabled people have faced multiple areas of disadvantage, exclusion and unnecessary risk.
“In order to prevent the same disproportionate and unequal impacts on disabled people during future peaks or crises, the government must prioritise the inclusion of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in their emergency planning.
“In order to make changes and improvements on wider issues as we ease into the ‘recovery’ period, they must also include disabled people and disabled people’s organisations at all levels of decision-making, and at the beginning rather than at the end.
“Prioritisation must also be given to urgently resourcing and supporting digital inclusion for disabled people, as well as access to mental health services.”
Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel is funded by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and it aims to shape, challenge and influence policy affecting disabled people across Greater Manchester by advising and consulting with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) he chairs.
Cllr Brenda Warrington, GMCA lead for the age-friendly and equalities portfolio, said: “It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed some very stark health and economic inequalities in our country.
“What this report shows is just how damaging that effect can be for disabled people in our communities who might already be feeling marginalised or excluded.
“The report highlights some vitally important concerns, including a need for greater clarity and accessibility of public health information and guidance at a national level.
“At the same time, we recognise there’s also a challenge here for local authorities in Greater Manchester to ensure that our residents are aware of what their councils are doing, and making sure those services are properly accessible to everyone who needs them.
“The panel’s findings have been shared with all of our local authorities here in Greater Manchester, and we will be working with them to very seriously consider the recommendations and address all of the issues raised.”
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