Major failings occurred in how the government communicated with disabled people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups during the pandemic, says a report from the Commission on COVID-19, Ableism and Racism.
The Commission, set up by the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), scrutinised policies and pandemic responses for evidence that systemic racism may have worsened outcomes for disabled Black, Asian and minority ethnic people.
The Commission’s findings highlighted in the report include:
- Government public health information was hard for disabled Black, Asian and minority ethnic people to understand.
- The government did not meaningfully engage with disabled people or Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
- The government said that COVID-19 was only serious for ‘vulnerable’ people including disabled Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. However, ministers did not try to understand why that was or to address this increased risk.
- Disabled Black, Asian and minority ethnic people experienced increased discrimination and disruption when accessing health and social care services.
The report says that these failures led to disabled people who are Black, Asian and from minority ethnic communities feeling:
- isolated from the wider community and their own families. They were unable to access support or have visits from family or carers terminology around COVID-19 was confusing and accessible information was scarce.
- Confused about whether it was safe to go out. This was because they were labelled ‘vulnerable’ and were unclear when social isolation applied and stopped.
- Discriminated against because of existing stigma linked to disability and race, exacerbated by being labelled as ‘vulnerable’ without the government explaining why.
In response to the report findings, The Commission has made 18 recommendations including:
British Sign Language interpretation and subtitles should be included as a minimum for all public health broadcasts
- The government, councils, health agencies and others should use existing channels and multiple formats for all communication - whether printed online, in large print, braille, audio - and a diverse range of languages.
- The government should undertake an Equality Impact Assessment in all public health emergencies to ensure that the needs of all citizens are considered.
- The government should create a cross-departmental advisory board of disabled Black, Asian and minority ethnic people to advise on the impact and implementation of policy. The board should be co-chaired by someone with lived experience.
Kamran Mallick, Chair of the Commission and Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “I experienced first-hand how government decisions negatively affected Disabled people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
This exposed just how much race and disability impact a person’s life chances.
“That is why the Commission is calling for a cross-government approach to policy, planning, data collection and engagement that is led jointly by disabled Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.
“Disabled people matter. Our lives matter. But unless ministers make a concerted effort to learn from the pandemic and engage with everyone in society, whole swathes of the population will continue to be left behind.”
Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we were struck by the actions of government and its agencies which often left disabled people, and especially those from minoritised ethnic communities, behind. The limited attention given to equity, diversity and inclusion was deeply felt and experienced by this community and for some ultimately cost people their lives.
‘The work of the Commission on ableism and racism, importantly led by people with direct experience of both, is helping to ensure that the voices of disabled Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are heard.
‘I thank the Commissioners and the individuals and organisations involved, as this report makes an important contribution to learning and improvement, including through the public inquiry that is now underway.
‘The work of the Commission must not just sit as a report of the past. It should be used as a lever for improvement including demanding a higher standard of policy making – one that recognises the different needs of different communities and is truly collaborative and seeks to achieve meaningful inclusion for all.’