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Disabled people most likely to be alone during coronavirus lockdown, ONS report finds

01 May 2020

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DISABLED adults in the UK are more worried about the impact of the coronavirus on their life and well-being than non-disabled adults, and are significantly more likely to spend time alone during the lockdown, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported.

The analysis, released last week, was gathered from the ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey of 1200 people about the impact of the pandemic on British society.

There are an estimated 13.7 million disabled people in the UK. A disabled person is defined in this analysis one who has a self-reported longstanding illness or condition that reduces his or her ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Most of the disabled adults (86 per cent) reported that they were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the effect the coronavirus was having on their life. Almost half (compared with about one third of non-disabled adults) reported being very worried.

Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of the disabled adults said that their concerns about the virus were affecting their well-being. This included loneliness, anxiety, and stress.

ONS states that disabled adults were also significantly more likely to report spending too much time alone (35 per cent) than non-disabled adults (20 per cent). It went on to report that disabled adults were less likely to spend time with household members as a way of coping.

Responding to the figures on Tuesday, Tanya Marlow, an online lecturer in pastoral theology and the author of Those Who Wait, said that disabled, chronically ill, and housebound people had been doubly affected by the pandemic.

“Not only are many of them more vulnerable to dying from the virus, but the essential support they need for their everyday life has been stripped away. Disabled people have been consistently at the bottom of the pile in terms of society’s priorities.”

She cited early media reports that “only” people with underlying conditions would die from the virus, and an early clinical-frailty decision that “implied that younger disabled people shouldn’t be offered hospital care or ventilators. This was only changed after campaigning, leaving people in care homes — of varying ages — to face the virus unchecked; and, finally, excluding most disabled people from the ‘extremely vulnerable’ list for supermarket slots and support.”

Describing the adverse effect of the lockdown on disabled people, Ms Marlow, who has been housebound with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) for a decade, said: “If you factor in the consideration that one in three disabled people are already living in poverty, and many are isolated, having been long abandoned by friends when they became sick, and having spent years living with pain and limitations, the only thing surprising about this report is that the numbers are not higher. . .

“This is an opportunity for the Church to champion the rights of disabled people rather than leaving vulnerable people behind.”

The lead chaplain among deaf people and a disability adviser for the diocese of Oxford, the Revd Katie Tupling, agreed. “Disabled people, resourceful and resilient under usual circumstances, are now faced with the likelihood of being asked to complete DNR [do not resuscitate] orders — adding to the sense of being omitted from society in the first place.”

The Government had no official British Sign Language provision to ensure that deaf people could access information for staying safe, she said.

Ms Tupling, who co-founded the online community Disability and Jesus, was born with cerebral palsy and now relies on crutches, a scooter, and a wheelchair for mobility. “We are already given subtle messages regarding our usefulness to wider society — and our ‘regrettable’ disposability for the greater good.

“Disabled people are sharing experiences on social media of being berated for being outdoors — ‘This is a space for healthy people!’ — and reading about the possible benefits of ‘herd immunity’: the weak being sacrificed for the greater good of the strong and the economy.

“There is also fear among disabled people that, despite putting everything in place, we will somehow contract Covid-19. For many disabilities this would mean ‘game over’, as our bodies are simply not designed to fight such an aggressive virus. And we may not be deemed viable enough for ventilation.”

Read more on disability and Covid-19 on our features page

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