By EDI Lead Associate Colin Heyman

It seems to me that amongst the many groups disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and lockdown, disabled people have received the littlest publicity. The effect on many disabled people has been devastating: the disproportionate numbers of deaths in care homes; those living at home missing out on care; the necessity to shield; mental health issues; the greater difficulty of accessing events on Zoom, to name but some of the effects.

The UK’s Business Disability Forum (BDF) has urged the government and businesses to change the narrative on disability inclusion after hosting a panel, How do we build on the positive and tackle the negative for disabled people post Covid-19, that highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the lives of disabled people.

“While we’ve seen lots of kindness and community spirit during the pandemic, for some disabled people the reality has been very different. Disabled people are amongst those most impacted by coronavirus with deaths disproportionately high,” pointed out BDF CEO Diane Lightfoot.

Equally, a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), How coronavirus has affected equality and human rights, includes much information about the plight of disabled people in these difficult times and the extra disadvantages they are facing, as well as bringing together “emerging evidence on the impact of coronavirus across key areas of life and the hardship faced by people who already face disadvantage”.

One statistic that surprised me from the EHRC report was that “reduced care availability and the introduction of isolation measures has transferred some caregiving duties to informal carers. This is evidenced by the estimated 4.5 million people in the UK who have become unpaid carers since the start of the pandemic, a rise of almost 50%; meaning over a quarter of the adult population now care for a family member or friend. Those who have become unpaid carers are more likely to be women, younger and have young children. (Carers Week,
2020 – my italics).

The report also highlights the increase in unemployment amongst disabled people, and that disabled people, parents, and carers are most at risk of being made redundant.

This information highlights challenges for social landlords, such as:

  • Supporting disabled tenants who are not receiving some of the support they normally do. It is important that social landlords are in regular contact with their disabled tenants to find out if they have support needs and to fill in the gaps where possible. I know of some housing associations who have done a fantastic job phoning round vulnerable tenants and supporting them as much as they can when needed
  • Supporting disabled employees who may not be receiving the support they normally do, from physical help which enables them to live their lives, to mental health issues arising from the isolation of shielding and lockdowns
  • Supporting staff who are having to carry out informal care above what they normally do, on top of working from home. There needs to be a degree of flexibility from employers and reasonable adjustments to support employees who are having to carry out extra caring duties, often in an atmosphere of high anxiety for vulnerable relatives who are at higher risk from Covid-19
  • All of this highlights the importance of knowing who your tenants, residents, and employees are so that you can reach out to those who may be impacted disproportionately and find out what support they need.

There was a slight improvement in disabled people’s employment rate compared to nondisabled people from 2013 to 2019 (albeit there was still a much higher rate of unemployment amongst disabled people). However, it is likely that this improvement will be reversed, as disabled people are at greater risk of being made redundant because of the economic decline due to Covid.

UK government statistics show that the unemployment rate for disabled people was 6.5% in April-June 2020, compared to 3.5% for people who are not disabled.