An inquiry without disabled people is no inquiry at all
Lessons have not been learned.
This March will mark two years since the first Covid-19 lockdown. I don’t know about you, but I will always remember the very first TV address from the Prime Minister stating those words, ‘you must stay at home’.
The last two years have challenged us all in ways we couldn’t have imagined. But during this time, one thing’s remained consistent; the voices of disabled people have been left out of Government’s policies and responses to the pandemic.
Despite so much time passing, the situation is still really tough for many disabled people and it’s clear that lessons haven’t yet been learnt.
The news on Governments’ actions in recent weeks has only caused greater doubt and frustration.
We’ve heard how Government parties happened while thousands of disabled people and their families spent months isolating, cut off from support and help at home.
Despite cases of Covid-19 still being concerningly high, the recent removal of more safety measures has only caused more anxiety for many disabled people.
We face a real danger that as the rest of society moves towards some semblance of normality, disabled people will remain out of sight and out of mind. And that’s exactly why the public inquiry into Covid-19 is so important.
At Sense, we’re continuing to campaign to ensure that disabled people are heard in the inquiry. But we need to see greater progress on this to make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again.
What’s happened so far?
While we haven’t yet seen the progress we’d like, individuals, families and campaigners have been working tirelessly to change this.
Back in February 2021 the government announced they would hold a public inquiry into Covid-19 in Spring 2022. In response to this news and the experiences of disabled people and their families, we launched our petition calling for disabled people to be heard in the inquiry.
Our recent research showed that 56% of the public think that the experiences of disabled people should be heard at the inquiry, and over 35,000 of you have signed our petition so far, showing that this is an issue that can’t be ignored.
We’ll be handing your signatures to the Government in the coming weeks.
In December, the Prime Minister appointed Baroness Heather Hallett as the inquiry Chair. The Chair of a public inquiry is really important as they help to shape who else is involved and how it will run.
Alongside 35 other disability charities, we wrote to Baroness Hallett asking her to meet with us to discuss the involvement of disabled people in the inquiry.
While it’s great that the PM kept his promise to have a Chair in place before Christmas, we now need more action to ensure the inquiry goes ahead in Spring.
The next steps we want to see
Firstly, in the coming weeks, we want to see information from the government about who else will lead the inquiry alongside the Chair. Sense research showed that 64% of the general public think that the inquiry should be run by a panel that includes individuals from groups that have been most impacted by the pandemic.
Rather than just having one person or Chair leading the inquiry, at Sense we want to see a panel of people steering the inquiry that includes disabled people, as one of the hardest-hit groups.
Having people with lived experience involved is vital to ensuring that disabled people’s experiences are heard and understood.
Secondly, ahead of the inquiry launching, next month we hope to hear about a consultation on the Terms of Reference. Sounds complicated, but simply put, the Terms of Reference sets out the scope of an inquiry, what will be included and who’ll be able to give evidence.
It’s vital that disabled people are involved in this consultation to make sure the inquiry is accessible for everyone. We’ll be calling for a specific reference to disabled people in Terms of Reference as well as submitting evidence ourselves.
The public inquiry into Covid is an opportunity to examine what’s happened and outline a way forward that prioritises care, support and equality for disabled people.
But without progress in the coming months, we are simply delaying the chance to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself for disabled people.