The United Kingdom government’s recently published data revealing that people with disabilities account for 59 percent of all Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales between March and July 2020 should shock us all.
But this devastating data is just one piece of the bleak experience of people with disabilities in the UK during the pandemic. A recent national government survey on the impacts of Covid-19 found that 22.5 percent of people with disabilities reported that their health is affected, almost twice the number of non-disabled people, while nearly 60 percent reported impacts to their well-being compared to 43 percent of non-disabled people, including worries about mental health deterioration and fears about the future.
A September Equality and Human Rights Commission briefing to the UK parliament cited numerous concerns for people with disabilities linked to emergency Covid-19 legislation introduced in March that weakened safeguards for people with disabilities. These include reduced access to health and social care services, the real risk of harm to people inside closed institutions combined with decreased public scrutiny of those institutions; and significant reductions in provision for care in the home.
In a June UK parliament hearing on Covid-19 and disabilities, advocate Fazilet Hadi, from Disability Rights UK, described feeling undervalued and forgotten during the pandemic: “For some of us, it showed how far away we are from being equal members of society,” she said. “Despite good intentions and maybe goodwill, the value of our lives is not completely embedded in society.”
Parliament should make the experience of people with disabilities a key focus of its six-month review of the coronavirus emergency law, due on September 30. Parliamentary health and social care and human rights committees should make the experiences of people with disabilities form a key part of their ongoing inquiries. And the UK government should ensure that people with disabilities are not left exposed during a “second wave” of Covid-19 or future public health crises.
The UK must show its commitment to the rights of people with disabilities by swiftly addressing the most glaring concerns. For some, it is truly a matter of life and death.