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Covid-19 has supercharged inequalities already faced by Glasgow’s 150,000 disabled people, according to extensive evidence gathered by Glasgow Disability Alliance over the last 5 weeks.

Since 23rd March, the organisation, run by and for its 5000 disabled members, has made contact by phone, post and online, with thousands of disabled people, to understand and offer support on pressing needs and impacts of the pandemic and lockdown.

CEO Tressa Burke highlighted their key findings so far on BBC Disclosure: Pandemic Frontline (BBC1 8.30pm 27 April 2020), alongside Fern Adams, a GDA member, who shared her personal experiences.

Burke said “Our survey and member engagement have reached thousands, and provide vital evidence of the actions needed to protect disabled people during and after COVID. Disabled people are harder hit by the pandemic not only because we may be at greater risk of severe illness – but equally or more so – because existing inequalities and persistent barriers like isolation and digital exclusion make us even more vulnerable. On top of this, lifeline services are being removed and our very rights to life are on the line. It is more important than ever that we make sure disabled people’s voices are heard – and that the issues raised by the vast numbers we’ve spoken to are acted on in the response efforts. There are ongoing lessons to be learned and swift actions needed, to make sure that disabled people aren’t left behind.”

In 5 weeks GDA has reached out through postal surveys to over 5000 disabled people, wellbeing telephone calls to over 1500, with an in-depth survey completed by 1177 disabled people. Findings so far highlight that:

1. The Covid pandemic is supercharging inequalities already faced by disabled people.

  • 40% of disabled people so far are worried about food, medication or money. Existing poverty and financial exclusion mean many of our members have no way to pay bills or buy essentials under lockdown. Many are falling between the cracks, with huge delays processing benefits applications.
  • Food insecurity has spiked: many disabled people already reliant on foodbanks or supermarket deliveries tell us they are left short of food, as demand has overwhelmed these services.
  • Isolation, already twice as high amongst disabled people, is now even more of a concern with over 72% worrying about becoming acutely isolated. This was partly because many disabled people have no internet access, and many rely on others for support with day to day tasks and looking after themselves. While lives clearly depend on reducing our contact with others, isolation is a huge worry, with knock on impacts on our mental and physical health, and resilience.
  • Vital Information is not reaching disabled people in clear, accessible formats.
  • Digital exclusion is a huge factor: only 37% of disabled people reported to have home broadband or IT, and many lack the confidence or skills to use it.
  • Despite a huge mobilisation of local voluntary sector responses, of disabled people we spoke to 76% were not aware of any of these local support services or were unable to access them.

What GDA is doing:

  • GDA’s Welfare Rights and Resilience Response teams have delivered advice, support and essential supplies to 404 disabled people and their families in Glasgow including food, medication and communication resources, and registered a further 571 on the edge of crisis, requiring support in the coming weeks.
  • GDA is connecting disabled people to information and vital services, including digital inclusion efforts locally and nationally.

2. The Covid-response risks leaving disabled people behind

  • Lifeline services are being removed at a time of acute need and uncertainty leaving disabled people even more vulnerable.
  • Social Care has been already cut to the bone under austerity and due to COVID, vital social care supports have been withdrawn from a further 1884 people in Glasgow since 19th March – with some given no notice at all, and no idea when or if their care would be reinstated. Many disabled people have been left reliant on neighbours, other vulnerable relatives, or simply with no-one to meet intimate personal care needs like meals, medications, support to shower or use the toilet. Disabled members of GDA warn this is unacceptable, and far from sustainable, yet many fear their care may never be reinstated.
  • Mental Health: the pandemic has seen vital supports removed from many who live with long term mental health conditions. Some members report mental health teams are uncontactable, leaving them extremely vulnerable at this incredibly challenging time. Austerity and cuts have long eroded capacity of our mental health services, with GDA members report longstanding barriers to accessing mental health support: services for those with long-term mental health needs must be protected and invested in at this time, alongside broadening access to low-level supports.
  • Rights to life are on the line: GDA members are terrified that ‘resource rationing’ guidelines are stripping them of their rights to equal access to potentially life-saving treatment. Several individuals have reported feeling pressured into agreeing Do Not Resuscitate notices, or being told they won’t be eligible for hospital treatment should they fall ill.
  • Over 90% of disabled people responded saying they want disabled people’s voices to be heard, in decisions about their own lives, and the evolving Covid-response, to ensure the ‘new normal’ is one which includes and values disabled people.

What GDA is doing:

  • GDA’s Social Care Expert Group are meeting remotely to offer peer support and speak out about their direct experiences of cuts, to raise concerns and to call for action
  • GDA has secured emergency funding for a Wellbeing Helpline to provide lifeline support to those falling through the cracks, and amplify calls for our specialist services to be protected.
  • GDA is supporting individuals to assert their wishes and know their rights in relation to health treatments e.g. health passports.
  • As part of the Scottish Independent Living Coalition of Disabled People led Orgs in Scotland – GDA has called for clear guidance to protect disabled people’s Rights to Life and Health.
  • GDA has been continually feeding in voices, views and experiences of members in relation to COVID from the outset including speaking with Scottish Government Ministers on 31st March, 1 week into Lockdown to outline headline issues. GDA is determined and will continue every effort to ensure no disabled person is left behind.

GDA is calling on leaders from all sectors to hear and understand the specific impacts of Covid19 and the response, on disabled people, and to work with disabled people and our organisations, to protect rights and mitigate the unequal impacts evidenced through our member engagement.