House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee: Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services

Disabled people who already faced substantial barriers to full participation in society, for example because services were inaccessible or they had additional health, care and support or special educational needs, have suffered a range of profoundly adverse effects from the pandemic, including starkly disproportionate and tragic deaths. There must be a discrete independent inquiry into the causes of adverse outcomes for disabled people, including the decisions and policies of the Government and public authorities. This should take place as soon as the pandemic is more clearly under control, which we all hope will be in the first half of 2021. The Government’s focus on people defined as “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) to the virus, while rational from a medical perspective, was an inappropriate proxy for the need for support with access to food and had unintended consequences. The Government must better promote the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s new guidance to retailers and the vital importance of reasonable adjustments required under the Equality Act to allow disabled people equal access to food, including in emergency situations. The Government must use consultation with disabled people on its proposed National Strategy for Disabled People as an opportunity to more effectively adopt a social model of disability in relation to maintaining disabled people’s access to food in this and future crises. When the Government advises disabled people to shield, we believe it has a duty to ensure that local support arrangements that have replaced the national shielding programme, and the funding in place to support them, are adequate to meet the level of need. It must justify its assertion that “we need to get away from the food parcel model” by publishing an ongoing assessment of disabled people’s needs for help accessing food. Potentially discriminatory critical care guidelines and doctors’ blanket use of do not attempt resuscitation (DNAR) notices caused disabled people great distress and anxiety and left them feeling their lives were less valued than others’. A robust response is required to restore disabled people’s confidence that their needs are given equal consideration. The Government should consent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission issuing a statutory Code of Practice on the Public Sector Equality Duty. Pre-existing health inequalities and poor outcomes for people with learning disabilities have been exacerbated by the pandemic. It is vital that their annual NHS health checks are reinstated. The Government should work with the NHS, British Medical Association and people with learning disabilities to ensure full reintroduction of annual health checks across the NHS and increase take up.

Read the full report here