The so called minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson has refused to apologise for as many as 24 breaches of disabled people’s rights – and probably even more – by the government in the 12 months since the first COVID-19 lockdown.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and activists this week described to Disability News Service (DNS) their shocked reaction at the number of breaches, and said that each example represented a profound injustice done to disabled people by the UK government. It also provides fresh fuel for calls for an independent inquiry into the disproportionate number of deaths of disabled people during the pandemic.
As previously blogged, Tomlinson failed to carry out meaningful engagement with DPOs during the early months of the pandemic, while his Disability Unit failed to provide updates on its website for months at the height of the pandemic, while thousands of disabled people were dying from COVID-19.
The list of breaches also includes the government’s decision – early in the pandemic – to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for COVID-19, causing the loss of thousands of lives of disabled and older people.
This was later mirrored by the decision of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to draw up a strategy that allows patients infected with COVID to be discharged from hospitals into residential homes, as part of a so-called “safe discharge” scheme regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
The list also includes the decision to place those disabled people seen as clinically extremely vulnerable to the virus as low as sixth on the initial list of priority groups to be vaccinated.
There is also growing evidence – some of it revealed at this month’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference – of government departments refusing to allow many disabled staff to work from home during the crisis, forcing them to attend potentially infectious workplaces, and refusing other reasonable adjustments.
Another major breach of disabled people’s rights came with the government’s repeated failure to provide vital COVID-related information to Deaf and disabled people in an accessible format, including the refusal to provide an on-stage British Sign Language interpreter at televised ministerial briefings.
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said that each breach “represents a profound injustice done to disabled people by the UK government”.
She said: “Despite the hardships and tragedies of austerity and welfare reform, at no point in my lifetime has it been so clear as it has become through this pandemic, how dispensable disabled people’s lives are held to be and how quickly and easily our rights can be cast aside when it becomes politically expedient to those in power.”