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The Pandemic Greatly Magnified Inequity – So What Now?

Caroline Casey


It has been just over two years since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the UK. The pandemic cast a magnifying glass over society’s norms and values and has truly shown us our ability to innovate, pivot and adapt when we lean into our strengths.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also showcased the dark side of ‘sticking to what we know’ and the shackles of conformity. The past two years have seen the disabled community suffer disproportionality in the face of the pandemic. From cancelled medical appointments to reduced social interactions, and the inevitable minimized profile of these issues within the news agenda, the pandemic revealed the intense vulnerability of the disabled community.

In 2021, the BBC conducted a survey which found that 73% of respondents reported a deterioration in their disability, with a further 78% experiencing worsened mental health. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the risk of death involving COVID-19 for people with a medically diagnosed learning disability was 3.7 times greater than those without a learning disability. Between 24th January and 20th November 2020 in England, the risk of death was over 3.3 times greater than that of non-disabled people. 80% of disabilities are invisible and many disabled employees do not feel comfortable self-declaring their disability within the workplace.

Employees with underlying disabilities were likely to have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable and told to shield for considerable parts of the year – many shielded for over 400 days. Being away from the workplace and separated from their colleagues left many questioning their job security.

As the world ‘reopens’ and people celebrate the lifting of restrictions, many vulnerable people are concerned about their safety, reconsidering shielding or are being forced to return to work in environments that they do not feel safe in. The ONS reported that a higher proportion of disabled employees were made redundant than their non-disabled counterparts. Between July to November 2020, 21.1 per thousand disabled employees were made redundant, compared to 13.0 per thousand employees who are not disabled. This suggests that employers were seeking to retain employees who could cover a range of roles and left many disabled employees in a devastating predicament.



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