On 12 August the UK officially plunged into a recession, the second in 13 years.
The effects of this will be felt by many people all over the UK, who, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, have seen their way of life completely disrupted.
And yet since the recession was confirmed, it feels like there hasn’t been a lot more talk of it, let alone reassurances from our government.
This leaves those most vulnerable rightly concerned for what the future holds. One group experiencing heightened worries at the prospect of a recession are disabled people, who make up 19% of the working-age UK population.
The pandemic and oncoming recession has already been hitting disabled people hardest. The unemployment rate for disabled people from April to June 2020 was 6.5% in the latest quarter, compared to 3.5% for those without disabilities.
That may not seem too high, but when you put it the economic inactivity rate it’s more worrying. The economic inactivity rate measures those not looking for work due to circumstances (studies, other duties or in this case disability and illness). Between April and June of 2020, 3.3 million disabled people of working age were economically inactive. This was an increase of 67,000 from a year before. This could be due to needing to shield and the stress of the pandemic, both mentally and physically.
These last few months have been tough, and for disabled people, the UK’s future – a second wave, a recession, continued neglect and ignorance from the Government – feels daunting.
We spoke to members of the disabled community about their fears.
Jurgen Donaldson, 36, London
‘I was made redundant in the last financial crash and spent three months washing dishes and working in kitchens to cover my rent.
’12 months ago I started losing my eyesight. Over the course of two months I went from having close to perfect vision to not being able to leave my flat on my own.
‘In September 2019 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour that was pressing on my optic nerve. I had brain surgery to remove it but the nine-and-a-half-hour ordeal took a huge toll on my body.
‘In March 2020 I was finally mostly recovered and making a move returning to work – occupational health had cleared me, access to work had approved my grant – when I was furloughed.
‘At the beginning of August I received an email from Access To Work informing me that as I was not returning to work by 14 of August, my grant had been cancelled and that I would have to restart the application process. There is no guarantee that my new application will be approved in time for my adjustments to be implemented in time for my new return to work date of 1 October.
‘Right now, the idea of being made redundant again is terrifying. In the last recession competition for jobs was enormous, it feels as if it’s going to be the same again but now as a disabled person I will be at a disadvantage.
‘The fear of it all is petrifying and debilitating in itself. If I lose my job, I don’t know what I will do.’
Laura Hadley, 26, Liverpool
‘I have hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and fibromyalgia but am undergoing tests for PoTS (postural tachycardia syndrome) and started antihistamines for potential MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome) but this all ceased when the pandemic hit.
‘Because of all of this I can’t work, and live on my partners wage. His job is safe for now but we don’t now but obviously there are uncertain times ahead.
‘I’m not on any disability benefits as I know how horrifying the application process can be and I don’t want the stress to flare up my chronic illnesses when I might not even qualify.
‘Our wedding in May was cancelled and although insurance has helped us out and we’re still waiting on some refunds, we’re still having to pluck £1,000 out of thin air.
‘If I had been referred for occupational therapy I could be entitled to things like mobility aids, modifications to our house that will help me get around and even a blue badge but I wasn’t so we have to pay for it ourselves.
‘We’ve even applied to DIY SOS in a last attempt to get the things we need for the house that the government won’t do.’
Mik Scarlet, 55, London
‘I found the 2007 crash very hard as I was ill at the time so found it hard to work – I’m a partial paraplegic due to a complication from cancer treatment as a child.
‘My wife and I experienced living on benefits alone for the first time and it was tough. My wife went from earning £500 a week as a computer games designer to £50 as my carer. It highlighted how benefits aren’t enough to live on.
‘Now that we’re in a second recession, I really fear disabled people will be one of the worst impacted groups. For those who cannot work, it’s going to be dark and scary. We saw who bore the brunt of the cuts last time and I can’t see that changing this time.
‘We’ve become selfish and insular as a nation, so people like me must keep fighting for the rights of all disabled people, to make the public remember us this time. Disabled people must shout out and not let what may be coming silence them.’
The only way disabled people are going to make it through this is with a strong commitment from the Government.
James Taylor, executive director of strategy, impact and social change at disability equality charity Scope, said: ‘Disabled people have been hit hardest by this pandemic and must not be forgotten as we enter the biggest economic downturn in a century.
‘We fear we could be entering a state of emergency for disability employment. Nearly 200,000 disabled people have fallen out of work – and the furlough scheme has softened the blow.
‘Demand for our work and employment services from disabled people is starting to significantly ramp up.
‘The positive changes to the welfare system introduced by Government in response to coronavirus show what is possible.
‘A fully functioning welfare and benefits system will be needed now more than ever. We need an urgent end to conditionality and sanctions for disabled claimants. And the Personal Independence Payment assessment process needs a radical overhaul to ensure that decisions are right first time.
‘The government must publish its National Disability Strategy, and set out its plan to protect the rights of disabled people. This is needed now more than ever.’
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