Through his experience caring for a disabled family member, Elliot Sloman suggests measures that must be taken to make up for the adverse impact of lockdown restrictions on the lives of disabled people.
It goes without saying that disabled people were disproportionately impacted by coronavirus restrictions and the pandemic itself. As a community, disabled people saw a slew of additional inequalities which were brought on by the Conservatives’ reckless, hastily-enforced pandemic legislature.
This could range from being unable to see consultants for over 2 years, to watching their quality of life decrease in real-time because their ability to socialise, receive financial or personal aid, or gain adequate support was almost completely removed or suppressed in a much more prolific way than able-bodied people.
The unwillingness of the Tories to progress the lives of disabled people or take them into account in the new legislature is not unique to the pandemic but has been made much worse because of it. The Conservatives hold an ugly track record of defamatory and ableist comments towards the disabled. With Conservative MPs saying that disabled people should be paid less because they simply “don’t understand money”. So it’s no surprise that the Conservatives abandoned disabled people when given the chance.
This is not the same for Labour, as their opposition to policy ignoring the additional needs of disabled people in society can be seen in many ways. A number of Labour representatives published reports surrounding the impact of the pandemic and tory rule on minority groups, including disabled people. One such report was written by Abena Oppong-Asare, one of the Honorary Vice Presidents of the Young Fabians.
In her report, she details how disabled people were being denied their human rights to mobility, education, work and employment during the pandemic. This was not a one-off as many people report the same for the disabled in their local communities during the pandemic.
That being said, here are a few things that we, as people and as a party, can do to ensure that we not only retain the disabled vote and support but build on it in a meaningful and substantial way, post-pandemic restrictions. Written from the perspective of someone who cares for disabled people every day.
Many of the most pressing problems come down to money, especially consequences stemming from austerity pre-pandemic and the impact it has had on disabled people’s quality of life during the pandemic. More and more people, especially those with disabilities are relying on food banks and charities in order to feed themselves and their families. Disabled people, and people in general, need assurances that their dependency on food banks and charities will be removed by sufficient funding of aid, post-pandemic, to achieve financial recovery.
Aid can be provided in a number of ways, none of which are currently sufficient enough to sustain a decent quality of life in the long term. Aid like the Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Those receiving PIP receive pittance in comparison to the cost of living crisis. A realistic PIP payment is not nearly enough to adequately live off of, which is another assurance that we should give to disabled people to ensure they are paid enough to live comfortably and happily relative to their situation.
Aid is also provided by our public services, especially the NHS, and the deliberate underfunding of the NHS and the welfare state is detrimental to the lives of disabled people in so many ways, waiting times and the availability of consultants meant that some had to wait over a year to get the necessary support.
Another important factor is accessibility, not just physically but in their everyday lives too. Providing physical access to public spaces is a bare minimum that should have been provided long ago, not just buildings but pavements, public parks and all new spaces. Disabled people should not have to call upon multiple members of staff or the public in order to access spaces readily available to able-bodied people, something they were plainly unable to do during the pandemic.
A prime example of this is the introduction of Voter ID, this is just another barrier between disabled people, society and democracy. These accessibility issues are easily fixed however, public spaces are being remodelled often, so councils need to ensure that the spaces they are providing are completely available to all people of all abilities. New builds should include a number of readily adapted houses for those who want to live independently with their disabilities. The disabled need to be provided equality of opportunity which can be done through a shifting culture and legislative assurances, that services and spaces need to be available to everyone with the same quality provided to both the disabled and able-bodied people.
Finally, representation is a massively untouched area of media, government and society which is vital to closing the gap between the lives of disabled people and able-bodied people. To normalise disabled representation in the media through things like TV shows, films, and writing, not just as side characters but as leading frontpeople. This should be encouraged at all levels of society, including the government and the privatisation of channel 4, a trailblazer in disabled representation speaks volumes to how willing the Conservatives are to represent the disabled.
Speaking of, the Labour Party should take an approach similar to what Blair did with women’s representation in parliament in 1997 toward disabled representatives. To ensure that disabled people are given fair and representative numbers in parliament and in the wider society building on the just 5 disabled MPs who sit in the house of commons today. This would be a massive step forward and such destructive restrictions may never have been made so recklessly had there been representation in the House of Commons to fight against them.
It’s important to understand that people with disabilities are not a small demographic. ⅕ working-age people are disabled in some way, in total, over 14 million people across the UK are disabled and the vast majority of which will have been affected by the Tory rule in some way. This is why it is so important that we have disabled people really seen and protected by our representatives post-pandemic, through legislation and promises to be made by the Labour Party and the people that represent it.
Elliot Sloman is a Young Carer to his disabled father with Parkinson’s disease. Living in South East London and currently studying his A-levels, Elliot has high ambitions of progressing the lives of disabled people in a meaningful way, through aid reform and adequate education to shift the culture around disability in schools and the wider society. He tweets at @elliot_slmn.