The COVID-19 pandemic has meant we have all had to change what we were doing to re-focus on unforeseen tasks and adapt to working in a different way. It has been no different for us at Business Disability Forum. But how much disruption is OK to allow before we get back to the tasks and projects that kept our days full before the outbreak?
Some organisations have told us that they put inclusion related projects on hold during the pandemic. Since the pandemic and subsequent lockdown was unprecedented and, for some, incredibly short notice, this is understandable. But at what point does this putting inclusion ‘on hold’ become unacceptable? I was thrilled to see how much uptake ‘Black Out Tuesday’ had quickly received earlier this week (although I note some of its criticism from Black Lives Matter campaigners) at this time when many media and other campaigns are pre-occupied with COVID-19. I have also been encouraged to see the Government’s work on responses to the Grenfell inquiry continue. I then wondered, how many organisations (businesses and Government) have been prepared to say, disability inclusion will not get put on hold.
This is partly due to the lack of equality analysis procedures that can be done at pace. This perhaps suggests either people do not understand such procedures well, or the procedures that do exist are not practical and over-burdensome. For example, how post-lockdown changes have been made to our streets and pavements, a call for more people to cycle, and how there appears to have been little thought for how this affects people who already find it challenging to navigate our hectic and cluttered streets (see RNIB’s Safe Streets campaign). A pre-lockdown example was of how the Government issued a clause to allow local authorities to ‘pause’ providing care to disabled people, while at the same time the Government and businesses are expecting disabled to be ready and turn up for work (in whatever way and place ‘work’ means at the moment).
There are other responses to inquiries that we and other disability charities are waiting for on topics that affect work and disabled peoples lives, not to mention the publication of the UK’s National Disability Strategy. Yet disabled people are still expected to look for work, apply for (and appeal) their disability-related welfare support, and navigate consumer processes that became ever more complex throughout COVID-19. Policy making needs to meet disabled people where they are, in whatever situation is occurring around them, particularly if we believe policy to be about making people’s lives better and free from disadvantage. The barriers disabled people face do not go away when a pandemic arrives, and policy development that only takes place when things are ‘OK’ is not enough to make our society an inclusive and barrier-free one.
This is why at Business Disability Forum, despite producing a COVID-19 toolkit, producing a suite of COVID-19 specific webinars for advice and guidance, and having a ‘live time’ webpage on post-lockdown work guidance, we have continued our policy work at pace. We submitted written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on how disabled people have been significantly disadvantaged by temporary policies and arrangements put in place for COVID-19 (including the unacceptable lack of accessible communications). We also submitted written evidence to the Social Security Advisory Committee on how DWP should improve its engagement with disabled people. The policy team is also work on the publication of our year-long research on workplace adjustments (sponsored by Microlink, and published later this month), and we are also beginning projects on producing evidence on disability and body image and the Government’s proposals on support for carers in the workplace.