GM Disabled People’s Panel’s position on shielding:
The issue is not about shielding itself but the way that it has been implemented which has led to the harmful exclusion of disabled people. Rather than being used as an essential aspect of a multifaceted strategy, it has been relied upon with other approaches sidelined. Even though the Government had informed knowledge of the COVID crisis weeks if not months in advance, it failed to put in place support mechanisms to successfully implement its shielding strategy. This meant that many disabled people were left without basic resources such as food, medicine, personal assistants, and carers. For families with children shielding, especially where support services halted it was very difficult.
The communication and language used by the Government to convey the shielding strategy throughout has been ambiguous, confusing, and at times thoughtless. This has left many disabled people unsure if they were supposed to shield or not. The categorisation of people into “vulnerable” has turned back the clock on disabled people’s rights. Classifying disabled people as vulnerable does not acknowledge their right to good health and develops fear and anxiety in many disabled people – as they begin to feel as they are described – vulnerable or helpless & defenceless. Our GM survey also showed that many disabled people fell outside the official definition of “vulnerable” so did not have access to the support that the categorisation should provide e.g. food, medication, educational support, healthcare etc.
The other context to this, is that shielding may have been more of a choice for disabled people had the pandemic been managed differently. Because the world outside disabled people’s doors is not safe, disabled people have been obliged to shield. The factors that have contributed to making communities less safe for disabled people are inaccessible public health information, for example the lack of BSL interpreters at English government briefings and overemphasis on digital communications, unclear rules and senior figures undermining messages. Further factors that prevented disabled people from safely accessing communities were the delay in moving into lockdown and leaving lockdown too early; introducing the Eat out to Help Out scheme and opening of pubs allowing the virus to spread; not introducing airport testing and, perhaps most importantly, the problematic test, track and trace system.
Public authorities and Government should look to examples of good practice in other countries to shape their approach to shielding during the second wave. Some disabled people that are/were shielding – are now being forced to risk their health for financial reasons/lack of financial support. Some never could shield and risked their lives.
Only a joined up Zero Covid strategy will reduce the inequality that the Pandemic has exposed and exacerbated. The pandemic should not create additional barriers for disabled people. People of Colour, women, people in poverty, disabled people, and many of us share intersecting identities, have all been disproportionately harmed by the current national strategy. A Second Wave with the same approach and apparently less support is unjust and terrifying for many.