Survey Reveals Impact of Coronavirus on Disabled People Living in the UK 

A highly respected disability research organisation has completed a new survey which gives a glimpse of the scale of the challenges facing disabled people across the UK, amid the Coronavirus pandemic.  

For all of us, it may already feel like bemoaning the effects of lockdown restrictions has replaced talking about the weather as Britain’s nation pastime.  Yet for hundreds of thousands of disabled people, the impact of the New Coronavirus pandemic is much more wide-ranging than most of us could even imagine.  

We know this thanks to a timely survey carried out by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers – or RiDC for short. Covering all four nations of the UK, the survey reveals a raft of serious impacts on the lives and well-being of disabled people.  Here are just a few key findings.  


Living in Lockdown  

While most of us struggle to come to terms with social distancing, a whopping 59% of survey respondents reported that they are socially isolating. Of these, a third live on their own and a further half of all respondents live with just one other person – which goes to underline just how small the world has suddenly become for the vast majority of disabled people living in the UK.  

The feeling and practical impact of increased isolation is underlined by the stark fact that virtually half of healthcare worker visits to homes are not currently taking place. This could be because the service provider hasn’t been able to keep providing the service or because the person cared for is uncomfortable having external visitors to their home while they are shielding themselves because of the pandemic.  

Coping in Self-Isolation  

There’s plenty of government advice out there, encouraging people who are shielding from the community during the height of this pandemic to rely on home delivery for their essential shopping needs. So how are the supermarkets coping with meeting the needs of disabled customers during Coronavirus lockdown?  

Opinion is actually quite divided on this, with 38% of people surveyed saying they thought supermarkets had responded either moderately or extremely well, while 45% said supermarkets’ response had been poor or very poor (16% neutral).  

In terms of what disabled people are thinking just now, 46% are concerned about access to medicines, 48% are concerned about availability of food supplies and 52% are worried about getting necessary medical appointments. Unsurprisingly perhaps, even more – 55% – expressed concern about not being able to see their family.  

The RiDC survey then asked participants to consider how things might look once they’ve endured three months of self-isolation – in other words, the full 12 weeks floated by the government in March for people in higher risk groups. This prospect is greeted with even higher levels of anxiety for our disabled population, with almost two-thirds worried about availability of food, medicines or medical appointments and 66% concerned about not seeing friends for such a long time.   

Added to this is the existential fear of contracting the virus itself, with almost three-quarters (72%) of disabled people reporting that they are fairly or seriously concerned about this possibility.  

Disability Insights  

The statistics do speak for themselves but comments made by individuals surveyed a particularly useful in gaining an insight into some practical challenges disabled people are currently encountering.  

Take home delivery for example: “Tesco have said they’re prioritising special needs but there’s no way of contacting them to tell them you have special needs”.  Another person commented: “I cannot stand for half an hour waiting to get into the shop but the delivery slots are full all the time” – surely a common experience the length and breadth of the UK.  

Whether to accept key social care workers continuing to visit at home is clearly proving particularly trying for disabled people, understandably concerned about their risk of catching the virus. This seems to especially so for disabled people who access local authority individual care budgets to tailor support to meet their personal needs.  

One survey participant said: “I phoned to ask about protective clothing for my personal assistant, but they had no idea or response. As far as they’re concerned, because I use Direct Payment and employ my PA directly, it’s not their problem.” 

Reduced Care Services  

Personal care provision – together with daily living aids, so vital to many disabled people living at home – has clearly been impacted badly by the impact of staff absence among home care companies. “Reduced carer visits because of lack of staff – only one visit daily when it should be three” is one comment. Another states: “They’re leaving it to ordinary citizens to provide for the elderly and disabled. Many people like me don’t wish to be a burden on our friends and neighbours.”  

As with many things in life, even in the best of times, living with disability can often be much more complex and challenging than it is for abled-bodied people.  The RiDC survey underlines how this is being amplified during this time of crisis and how service reductions and lack of PPE are having a direct, practical impact on disabled people.  It also highlights that disabled people are having to cope with additional stress and fears, which in turn is no help to their physical and mental well-being 

Let’s all hope that key providers – from supermarkets to home care services – listen to the survey findings and are able to implement ongoing improvements to support those with special needs when they really do need it the most.  

The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers surveyed 1,562 disabled people around the UK, between 30th March and 3rd April. 842 people took part, giving a healthy 54% response rate. RiDC – formerly known as Rica or Ricability – is an independent charity working to highlight and aid understanding of a wide range of issues affecting disabled people in the UK.  

You can access the full results by clicking Coronavirus Survey of Disabled People, here.

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