For lots of people, the pandemic is far from over

Steven Morris, who works on Sense campaigns, shares his view on the latest research that shows disabled people account for over half of all Covid-19 deaths.

It’s been well over two years since the first UK national lockdown was announced – and understandably, across society it feels like more and more people have moved on from the horror of the pandemic. But for a large proportion of the population, the pandemic is far from over.

I was dismayed to read new data from the Office for National Statistics, showing that between January 2020 and March 2022, disabled people accounted for more than half (58%) of all Covid deaths. The figure demonstrates the devastating impact the pandemic continues to have on many disabled people and their families.

Despite promises from government to get the public inquiry into Covid up and running by Spring 2022, I’m worried and frustrated with the lack of progress so far to investigate the decisions that were made.

Last month, the public had the chance to give feedback on the inquiry’s terms of reference, which outline what the inquiry will investigate. And it was good to see some changes have been made: there’s now a focus on the impact on mental health, something that has affected many disabled people. And it was good to see a commitment to the inquiry being accessible to all, something we’ve been calling for.

But disabled people must be at the heart of the inquiry’s investigations. The fact that the inquiry won’t start hearing evidence from individuals until next year means that disabled people will remain in limbo with no opportunity to share their experiences.

People are feeling concerned

The statistics and experiences of disabled people speak for themselves in showing the ongoing challenges that disabled people are facing as a result of the pandemic. The recently updated ONS stats show this in the most shocking way.

The higher than average mortality rate among disabled people, coupled with the lifting of all restrictions, such as mask wearing and social distancing, has left many people feeling extremely concerned – with good reason. Sense research has revealed that 7 in 10 disabled people believe they have been left behind as the UK ‘lives with Covid’, with 6 in 10 saying they are fearful of going out and socialising due to the risk of Covid.

Rates of loneliness were already higher among disabled people before the pandemic, but are now soaring as a result of the loss of vital care and support, many continuing to isolate and concerns about restrictions easing.

We need action now

The upcoming public inquiry must take in to account the experiences of disabled people. The need to properly consider the experiences of disabled and older people was demonstrated in the worse possible way recently. The High Court ruled that the government had acted unlawfully when transferring older and disabled people from hospital back in to care homes. This is just one example of a decision that deprioritised disabled people and had devastating consequences for thousands.

The statistics clearly demonstrate the urgency and need for lessons to be learned soon. But in a world filled with constant news updates and new priorities, I can’t help but feel that the need to investigate the government’s handling of the pandemic has left the public consciousness somewhat.

The shockingly high death rates of disabled people are something that needs to be investigated now. Not in a years’ time when we risk losing more people or mislaying evidence. The statistics show the consequences when action isn’t taken. The inquiry is an opportunity to learn lessons, but we must see faster progress to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

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