Thank you Mr Chairman.
It is no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has been extremely difficult for the people of this country. While everyone has an equal chance of catching the virus, there is no doubt the effects of this pandemic have not been felt equally across our society.
The disadvantaged, the elderly, people from ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities have all been disproportionately affected by the effects of Covid-19. It is the latter group whose struggle has been tragically under-reported, and I thank my Honourable Friend, the member for East Kilbride, for securing this debate so this House can have an opportunity to discuss this issue.
Lockdown and the subsequent changes to our behaviour have had an extreme negative effect on people with disabilities. Social distancing, for example, is difficult for people who are blind and people who are deaf or hard of hearing have difficulty reading lips when everyone is wearing masks.
What may seem like a small inconvenience for the able bodied becomes an enormous challenge for people with disabilities.
One of the most tragic aspects of this pandemic has been its effect on those with learning disabilities, particularly those in education and social care. A recent survey by Mencap reports that 7 in 10 people with learning disabilities have experienced a reduction in social care during lockdown while seeing their needs nearly double.
Listening to some of the brave panel members on the APPG for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities this week, describing their difficulties accessing learning and getting the right support was deeply concerning.
Whilst the Government has published extensive guidelines on visits to care homes, there is little guidance about visits to people who are in supported living arrangements. This has a devastating effect on many people with learning disabilities, who often find themselves completely cut off from their traditional support networks. The loneliness that many feel is heart breaking. That, coupled with depression, leads to serious health issues.
Only one word can describe this situation, and that word is crisis. While news reports stoke fears of further restrictions, the simple fact is that for some, the original restrictions never ended. People with disabilities have suffered isolation, loneliness and the loss of their independence.
Emergency measures used to preserve resources for local authorities have led to defacto cuts to social care. We must set this right. Our responsibility to all our constituents, our simple human decency, demands that we set this right.
There needs to be an understanding that Covid is a long-term problem and long-term plan must be put in place to safeguard the most vulnerable in our communities.
We must increase funding to education and social care schemes to ensure that people with learning and physical disabilities are not left behind. If we do not increase funding this will have a knock-on effect to the rest of society, as families are forced to stop working to care for their disabled family member. This can put serious strains on families, many of whom are not equipped or trained to provide the long term care a complex learning or physical disability case requires.
We must ensure that visitation guidelines are clarified so people can meet with friends and family safely. We must do our best to ensure that the precautions designed to keep us safe do not come at the cost of people’s independence or their ability to communicate. This pandemic has changed everything. What it should not change, however, is our collective commitment to safeguard the most vulnerable in our community.
Mr Rosindell, people with disabilities, both physical and learning, deserve better and this House should commit to ensuring that. The coronavirus crisis has left disabled people feeling “abandoned, ignored and devalued”.
We must put this right.