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Covid-19 has “supercharged” inequalities

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Glasgow Disability Alliance has said many disabled people were left feeling abandoned during lockdown

Covid-19 has supercharged inequalities for disabled people, a new report has claimed.

Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA) says the pandemic has brought existing to the forefront, and has called for disabled people’s involvement, rights and support to be supercharged in response.

Supercharged: A Human Catastrophe. Inequalities, Participation and Human Rights before, during and beyond Covid-19 shares extensive findings and recommendations from GDA’s engagement with thousands of disabled people across Glasgow, throughout lockdown, and before.

Between March and July, GDA made and received over 8,500 telephone calls, communicated with more than 5,000 disabled people, and held 218 online discussion sessions.

This engagement has shown that the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have worsened inequalities faced by disabled people, and created new ones. Disabled people spoke out about falling through gaps in emergency food provision, having crucial healthcare cancelled, mental health supports withdrawn and social care cut indefinitely, leaving some GDA members with no support to wash, use the toilet, eat or take medications, at a time when they needed it most.

Experiences of disabled people during lockdown

“Four days before lockdown, our care was cut completely with three hours’ notice. No has checked on us since then to see how we are managing.”

“I feel completely let down by the society that was supposed to care for me.”

“There’s been nothing extra put in place for those with mental illness in fact our services have been removed. I’ve never felt so worthless and unvalued.”

Disabled people also reported a rise in harassment and hate crime in public spaces, and say fundamental rights to life were threatened by rationing of Covid treatment and inappropriate Do Not Resuscitate notices.

GDA’s report details how funding from Scottish Government, Big Lottery and Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership, via Impact Funding enabled the organisation to adapt its core services and rapidly develop new ones to meet ongoing and emerging needs during the crisis: delivering emergency food and essentials to 1,251 individuals, welfare rights support to 137, wellbeing support to 357 individuals, and digital equipment, coaching and online learning to 593 disabled people (March-July).

GDA estimate that its engagement prevented up to 5,000 disabled people from falling through gaps, as 80% of those spoken to were not aware of any support they could access in their local area. One member explained: “Disabled people are being excluded so much in our communities. Nothing is accessible to me, except GDA!”

Tressa Burke, chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance, said: “Over 20 years, GDA has built a disabled-people led community of interest: an infrastructure that connects over 5,000 disabled people across Glasgow. We were able to quickly mobilise our involvement model, so our response was shaped by our members - disabled people, who know where the gaps are.

“Covid has shown that although we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. Everyone caught in the storm needs a lifeline to pull them out of danger when they need it most - but for disabled people there are far fewer lifelines within reach.

“Now more than ever, governments and leaders must harness the voices of disabled people and take every opportunity to understand and remove barriers, to design services and responses that meet the acute and changing needs of those most vulnerable to Covid and its aftermath.”

Glasgow Disability Alliance say the solutions are:

- To supercharge disabled people’s meaningful involvement in planning and decisions: embedding lived experience, inclusive communication, and capacity building led by disabled people’s own organisations.

- To supercharge disabled people’s human rights: embedding the UNCRPD into Scots law, starting with revoking the Coronavirus Act, reinstating the rights it removed, and launching an inquiry into the unequal impact of the pandemic and responses on disabled people.

- To supercharge disabled people’s support by reopening the Independent Living Fund, and establishing a National Social Care Agency on a par with and working alongside our NHS, co-designed with disabled people to embed dignity, respect and a human rights approach.

One GDA member said: “Listening to disabled people is the only way elected members, government and other agencies will know where the gaps are and what services are required now and in the future.”