Boris Johnson accused of 'wilfully ignoring' impact of coronavirus on disabled people

Labour calls for government to publish equality impact assessments

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 17 September 2020 16:26

Boris Johnson has been accused of "wilfully ignoring" the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on disabled people and potentially making the situation worse.

Speaking on the Commons on Wednesday the prime minister said he wasn't aware of criticism of government coronavirus policy from disabled groups, despite an outcry over legislation past by his government.

Labour is urging the government to publish its impact assessments on how emergency pandemic policies are affecting people with disabilities, and to publish a long-term plan for disabled people who might have to shield.

Office for National Statistics data shows that two-thirds of those who have died from Covid-19 have been disabled or had health conditions that limit their daily activities.

Meanwhile, deaths among disabled people have been 2.4 times higher than for non-disabled people. The rate rate rises up to five times higher for people with learning disabilities or autism, who have been hit particularly hard.

Since April the government's Coronavirus Act has also allowed local authorities to reduce their usual duties in caring for people under the Care Act 2014. Labour says this policy needs to be urgently reviewed.

“Boris Johnson has been silent on the crisis within a crisis facing disabled people," said Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary.

“These high death rates demand serious and targeted action but disabled people and their families are being wilfully ignored.

“The prime minister cannot keep ducking responsibility, he must take a lead to keep disabled people safe.”

Writing to the prime minister on Thursday, Ms de Cordova and Vicky Foxcroft, shadow minister for disabled people, said that they they had "received communications from many disabled people, disabled people led organisations and representative charities throughout the pandemic who have told us that disabled people have consistently been left out of policy decisions, their needs haven’t been considered and repeated efforts to raise this have fallen flat".

In August the Cabinet Office refused to release its equalities impact assessment on its social distancing and coronavirus policies, after a freedom information request by The Independent. Official refused to release the material under Section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that it referred to "ongoing development of policy in this area".

In the Commons this week Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said the government may have broken international law, because of the way coronavirus legislation reduced the rights of disabled people.

Boris Johnson replied: "I am not aware of that particular allegation about the legal effect of the Coronavirus Act and I would be only too happy to write to him shortly to clarify the matter."

Polling by the charity Scope shows that a quarter of disabled people fear losing their job as a result of the pandemic, while 30,000 people with disabilities have signed a letter to Mr Johnson urging him to act.

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