Disabled People Are Anxious About Returning To Work. Do Not Forget Us - Rugby and Daventry Radio Station Midlands UK            

Disabled People Are Anxious About Returning To Work. Do Not Forget Us

Written by on September 17, 2020

Article Published on Thursday September 17, 2020 7:05 AM by


Disabled People Are Anxious About Returning To Work. Do Not Forget Us


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With the government encouraging us all to get back into the office, disabled people are rightly anxious about returning to work. 

This week, as part of Scope’s We Won’t Be Forgotten campaign, the disability equality charity is delivering an open letter to Boris Johnson signed by 30,000 disability campaigners calling for a “new deal for disabled people to show they won’t be forgotten in the Government’s recovery plan, and beyond”. 

This is something I cannot welcome too much, as throughout the pandemic I’ve had to watch with frustration and anger as the government have done nothing to help those left most vulnerable by the virus. As the world went into lockdown – when the government should have been doing everything to ensure disabled people weren’t left without support, food, care, health care and money – to many it felt like we were instead just shut up inside for five months.

Back in February, before coronavirus crisis hit the UK, Johnson wrote to his Cabinet and said he wanted his government, through a National Disability Strategy, to transform the lives of disabled people. 

As a disabled person who’s lived under a Conservative government for my whole adult life, I was sceptical but held out hope. The pandemic would’ve been the perfect time to provide more care for disabled people – we were at our most vulnerable after all. But that didn’t happen.

The pandemic would’ve been the perfect time to provide more care for disabled people… But that didn’t happen.

When the government promised help to get us back out into the world I expected then that Johnson would announce some support for disabled people – maybe extra money to get specialists into health centres into the community after we’ve had next to no health care for the last six months? Instead he gave people money off eating out at restaurants.

Thankfully, Rishi Sunak is pledging to help businesses return “back to normal”. Great! Does this mean more provisions to allow disabled people like me to work from home where possible and more funding and funding for those who need to shield? Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it. Instead he’s pushing people to return to the office to support city centres.

I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones – I already worked from home pre-Covid. But the only way I could was by working freelance. When lockdown came, it honestly hurt to see how easily the working from home conditions I had been told weren’t possible could be applied en masse to whole industries. 

I failed university three separate times because staff were unsupportive of my mental health needs and wouldn’t allow me to work from home when I needed to – yet home schooling has quickly become the norm. As for home working, when I made the switch to writing and journalism I wasn’t able to hop from newsroom to newsroom like other freelancers due to my low immune system and chronic fatigue. As a result it’s taken me a lot longer to get to the same point in my career as my able-bodied peers. One of my favourite things about being a freelancer in the ‘before times’ was being able to work from my favourite coffee shop or the library. It seems like a silly significant thing in the grand scheme of things but being shut in with just my dog and husband has really affected me mentally – and it must be even worse for disabled people who live alone. 

Disabled people have been fully cut off from others, and just because everyone else is in a rush to get back to normal doesn’t mean we feel safe to do so.Amid speculation that the country could be at risk of a second lockdown, many are anxious about returning to work. New research by gov.uk reveals just 14% of disabled workers feel safe about returning to work. Despite this, many may be forced to risk their health as they are worried about losing their jobs if they don’t return to work.

If Johnson really wants the country to get back to normal, he needs to include everyone in his plans and be doing his utmost for disabled people.

Some 51% of disabled workers said they were “concerned about going back to work, but need to get paid”. A third of disabled workers also feel under pressure to return to work – with employers and the government cited as main sources of pressure. And 25% of disabled workers are concerned about losing their job because their employer can’t make it safe for them to go to their workplace. 

This gives a clear message that we shouldn’t force people to return to the office until they are ready and can be certain that it’s safe for them to do so. If Johnson really wants the country to get back to normal, he needs to include everyone in his plans and be doing his utmost for disabled people.

The open letter from Scope calls for the government and employers to embrace flexible working to create more job opportunities for disabled people in the future. The letter states: “The commitment to tackle the disability employment gap set out in the Conservative manifesto must be upheld. For those unable to work, the Government must guarantee a safety net which supports rather than punishes, without fear of ineffective sanctions.”

Nobody should have to choose between their job and their health. If the government doesn’t start prioritising the needs of disabled people, coronavirus will not be the only killer in this pandemic.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelCDailey

 

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