Covid inquiry: a chance to change

Covid-19 has an impact on everyone’s lives. And the effect on disabled people and their families goes on. In this blog, Richard our CEO, tells us what needs to be included in the forthcoming Covid-19 inquiry.

A woman and her son walk alongside the Covid-19 memorial wall, covered in red hearts. They're holding a big, heart-shaped balloon with "Put disabled people at the heart of the Covid inquiry" written on it.

Throughout the pandemic, many disabled people voiced their dismay about what was happening in every aspect of their lives. So did their families members, and social care staff.

The list of concerns is shocking and overwhelming:

  • Vital support being reduced or withdrawn.
  • A struggle to access PPE.
  • Worry and concern about ‘do not resuscitate’ notices.
  • Uncertain support for individuals and families who were shielding.
  • Worries about access to the same healthcare as others if they become ill with Covid-19.
  • Lack of testing and equity of access to vaccines.
  • Lack of recovery plans for children and adults.
  • Lack of accessible information about the pandemic.

Inequalities old and new

The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities as well as creating new ones. Disabled people face existing inequalities in health, wellbeing, employment and economic circumstance.

The pandemic has added an extra layer of hardship.

Two years (and counting) of changes to structures and routines and separation from family and friends. These are massively challenging for disabled people and the people who support them.

Recognising the social harms

We need to recognise the social harms caused by the pandemic. These harms were caused by the decisions taken at the time of the pandemic not just the clinical vulnerabilities. This is why we need to include these three considerations in the Covid-19 inquiry:

1. We need to consider the impact on disabled children, adults and their families.

The inquiry’s current Terms of Reference refer to ‘protected characteristics’. Our concern is that by lumping every group under this ‘umbrella’ term, the specific inequalities and issues faced by disabled people during the pandemic risk being overlooked.

2. We need to take a rights-based approach.

We are talking about the right to personal care, to eat, drink, communicate, move, take medication, therapeutic support to develop and be free from pain. In the pandemic, such rights were regarded as an add on and discarded in favour of general population strategies. For example, services vital to disabled children and adults were withdrawn or closed. In the future, during times of national emergency, support vital to the safe care of disabled children should be protected.

3. We need to hear from disabled people themselves.

Disabled people must be at the heart of the inquiry and we should start the inquiry by hearing the voices of disabled children and adults, and their families. It is important that we hear statements about their experiences, particularly as the withdrawal of support had such a cumulative effect on disabled children, adults and families. It was wide reaching across various aspects of their lives.

The Covid-19 inquiry is an opportunity to learn lessons and take recommendations forward, as well as to think what we would need to put in place for future pandemic or crisis responses. If we do this, it will enable us to tackle some of the long-term inequalities that exist.

We want to see practical steps taken to ensure disabled people’s needs are understood and prioritised now and in the future.

What can you do?

Well, the inquiry has now released its Terms of Reference. It’s a document that outlines the proposed areas the inquiry will investigate.

We believe that the Terms of Reference can be improved to make sure the inquiry has the best chance of learning from the experiences of disabled people. And you can help. You can review the document and give feedback, and the deadline is Thursday 7 April.

Help make sure the experience of disabled people is heard in the inquiry

Help improve the Terms of Reference for the Covid inquiry. You’ll need to feed back by this Thursday.