COVID Inquiry Hears About Government Disregard of Disabled People

Tue,10 October 2023
News Equality & Rights Health & Social Care
On 9 October, the COVID-19 Public Inquiry heard hard hitting evidence from Professors of Disability Studies, Tom Shakespeare and Nick Watson, and Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK on the impact of the pandemic on Disabled people.

The professors spoke about the well documented systemic inequalities facing Disabled people, both prior to and during the pandemic.  Issues highlighted included the greater susceptibility of Disabled people with long term health conditions to respiratory disease; the greater likelihood of transmission in Care Homes and other residential settings; the increased risks by virtue of receiving care and support; the discriminatory barriers to receiving services and the cyclical nature of poverty and disability. 

The professors told the Inquiry that social care and health services had been cut prior to the pandemic and that Disabled people had a greater reliance on these services. They said that fewer people now received social care services. They highlighted the disability employment gap and high levels of digital exclusion. 

They drew the Inquiry’s attention to the particular challenges faced by people with learning disabilities and their radically lower life expectancy. You can find their expert report on structural inequalities and Disability on the COVID-19 Inquiry website. 

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, spoke about the UK Government’s utter failure to engage with Disabled people and Disabled people’s organisations.  

Disability Rights UK wrote to the Government, as early as 16 March 2020, challenging the adequacy of government guidance and asking for measures to protect Disabled people receiving care and support. The letter noted the risks of asymptomatic transmission and the need for isolation units in care homes as well as the use of PPE for those working in the care sector even if asymptomatic. The next week they wrote alongside others, to ask that the restrictions in the Coronavirus Bill relating to social care, education and mental health protections, be withdrawn. Throughout the height of the pandemic, Disability Rights UK wrote a number of letters to Government on maintaining social care, providing equal access to health services, ensuring access to food and asking for people on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list and those with learning disabilities to receive priority for vaccinations. Most of these letters went unanswered or were only partially responded to.

In response to a question from the Inquiry Chair, Kamran Mallick said that a Disability Minister should be a senior minister and part of the cabinet, with an ability to influence all government policies, decisions and actions. He said that Disabled people needed to be properly involved by Government at the early stages of government decision making, as opposed to being brought in only once decisions had already been taken. Also, that DPOs should be funded to bring their lived expertise to Government decision making just as consultants in other areas of Government work are funded. Here is Kamran Mallick’s Witness Statement from the 9th October 2023 in front of the Inquiry. 

On 9 October, to coincide with evidence being given to the Inquiry on the impact of the pandemic on Disabled people, Disabled led organisations and disability activists gathered outside the Inquiry, to call for Government failures to be called out and justice for Disabled people. Watch some clips of the evidence session over on our X/Twitter page.

The gathering heard from Inclusion London, Winvisible, DPAC and Disability Rights UK. The huge loss of Disabled lives was not inevitable, neither were the hardships and neglect that Disabled children and adults experienced. Learn more about the protest and speeches in our write-up of the demonstration.