Disabled women of working age experience disproportionately high death rate in pandemic

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 27th July 2021 13:14 EDT

A new government green paper titled Shaping Future Support has revealed that ministers are considering measures to cut rising spending on disability benefits and the possibility of merging personal independence payment with universal credit. 

Disability News Service reported, “It is only in the final chapter of the report that they begin to hint strongly at the need to cut projected spending on disability benefits. There is also no mention in the 46,000-word document of any of the deaths of disabled claimants that have been linked to DWP’s actions and failings. And the green paper fails to mention the 97 internal reviews DWP has carried out into the deaths of claimants since July 2019.”

Meanwhile, the Disability strategy is delayed again as government consultation faces high court challenges after four disabled people were granted permission to challenge the legality of its consultation process in the high court. 

Speaking exclusively to Asian Voice, Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy, Disability Rights UK said, “Disabled women in the UK have had a very hard time during the pandemic. Disabled people have accounted for almost 60% of deaths and disabled women of working age have experienced a disproportionately high death rate.

“BAME and disabled people often live in poorer areas, experience inadequate Covid treatment. Initially, 2.2 million people were identified as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable to Covid, and this went up to 4 million in January 2021. This significant group of people found themselves having to isolate themselves from the wider community resulting in loneliness, difficulties getting food and medicines and struggling to access health and care services.

“Disabled people outside the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable group also experienced significant challenges in accessing public services such as education, care and health. They found that online supermarket delivery slots had been prioritised for CEV people, often leaving them without accessible ways of shopping for food. Disabled people with sight impairments or learning difficulties found social distancing challenging and this prevented them from going out and about. Disabled people who couldn’t use face coverings found themselves the victims of hate crimes. There is also evidence that disabled people disproportionately lost jobs or experienced reductions in hours.”

In a 91-hour action spread over three weeks, disabled activists from the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) chanted, “Who did they not save? Disabled women!” beneath a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett last Tuesday, as they drew attention to the government’s failings during the pandemic.”

First reported by Disability News Service (DNS), it showed that “working-age disabled women with higher support needs were nearly twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than non-disabled women of the same age.”

Asian Voice had also reported in its previous issue that ONS research and researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that this group of disabled women were 91 per cent more likely to have died from Covid-19 than non-disabled women, even after allowing for factors such as underlying health conditions, and whether they lived in poverty, or in a care home.

During the protest, disabled WEP activist, Dr Sarabajaya Kumar, was quoted saying, “When considering the question of that now-infamous [Downing Street] whiteboard of ‘who do we not save?’ people like me were clearly not considered worthy of saving. We would be collateral damage.”

She added: “If we were prioritised by the government, the plan to support those of us who were shielding would not have been created as an afterthought in under 48 hours… but it was. If we were prioritised by the government, very many people would not initially have been left off the vaccine priority list, despite being at far higher risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19… but they were.”

Cloak of invisibility

Organisers of a conference that will be run by people with dementia say they hope it will help to remove the “cloak of invisibility” that comes with having an invisible impairment.

All the speakers at the 100/6000 Dementia Activism Conference in September will be people with dementia or other cognitive impairments.

In a newsletter shared with Asian Voice by the Head of Policy, Disability UK, researcher Dr Miro Griffiths (a research fellow in disability studies at the University of Leeds, and a member of the equality watchdog’s disability advisory committee) said the Covid-19 crisis had led many disabled people to feel lonely and that they were a “burden” on others. Griffiths, who is also an adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, said the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK had shown how difficult it would be to determine if someone was being coerced into opting for an assisted suicide.

Fall may be near but the delay in strategies for disabled people, especially women as crime and domestic abuse continues to rise amid the pandemic in the UK, is extremely worrying. Its publication was originally planned for Spring but will now see the light of the day only by fall. It is being reported the government hasn’t consulted disabled people’s organisations about the strategy. If the government doesn’t hear the story from the horse’s mouth, we’ll all collectively as a society will lose the race. 

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