Letter to prime minister – impact of Omicron on disabled people

There are concerns about the impact of Omicron on sick pay and homeworking for disabled people

The Disability Charities Consortium (DCC) has sent an urgent letter to the prime minister today raising concerns about the impact of Omicron on disabled people, including around sick pay and homeworking. The letter calls for immediate action.

Diane Lightfoot is Co-Chair of the DCC and is also CEO of Business Disability Forum. A number of other leaders from non-profit and disability-related organisations signed the letter too.

December 20th 2021

Prime Minister,

We are contacting you on behalf of the Disability Charities Consortium regarding our grave concerns over the impact of Omicron on the UK’s 14million disabled people.

At every stage of the pandemic, disabled people have been disproportionately affected. Almost 6 in 10 of those who’ve died from COVID-19 were disabled people.

As we face the threat posed by the Omicron variant, we are issuing an urgent call to you directly to ensure disabled people and those at higher risk from COVID-19 are not forgotten.

Last week the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that the Government was supporting those most at risk by encouraging people to get boosters and 3rd doses if eligible, and said they were looking at antivirals. We feel this response falls far short of the action needed to support and protect those most at risk.

Lack of guidance

The Omicron variant emerged several weeks ago, and yet the guidance for disabled people who were previously on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list has not been updated since 3rd November.

The guidance does not mention the new variant, nor reflect the increased threat posed by the rapid spread of Omicron. Disabled people, particularly those on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list, need to know what precautions they should be taking, and this information is not available.

We urge you to bring forward new guidance aimed at those who were previously shielding as soon as possible and to ensure that it is accessible to all.

Vaccine boosters

We are also concerned about the accessibility issues disabled people face in getting a booster in the wider rollout.  We have had sight of a letter from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) dated 17th December that encourages priority access for the clinically vulnerable including disabled people. 

We know that disabled people do not have the same flexibility for attending appointments as others, especially if relying on support from carers or personal assistants. Those who require facilities such as accessible parking and toilets face less choice in where they can get a booster. For many, walk-in centres are not an option due to long queues.

Whilst the latest letter is positive about queue management, we urge the Government to monitor the take up of the booster amongst disabled people and ensure all venues and information are accessible for disabled people across the country, and to give priority access to disabled people.

Support to stay safe

Two weeks ago, you advised people to work from home. However, we know for many people this is not an option. Analysis has shown disabled people are more likely to work in jobs which can’t be done from home.

The lack of financial support and protections for disabled people who can’t work from home represents a gaping hole in Plan B.

With no furlough scheme, no shielding rights, and no updated guidance in place, many disabled workers who cannot work from home will now feel they have been left to fend for themselves.

The Government must urgently provide financial support and clear guidance for disabled people who cannot work from home.

Sick Pay

The current system and rate of Statutory Sick Pay at just £96.35 per week is simply not sufficient. Disabled people already face on average extra costs of £583 a month. The current energy crisis and enormous rise in inflation has made things far worse, both financially and for healthcare. 

Without a proper sick pay system that can cover basic living costs and flexibly accommodate urgent care needs, many disabled people will be extremely concerned about their situation if they are asked to isolate this winter.

We look forward to your urgent response to these points.

Yours sincerely,

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum (DCC Co-Chair)

Mark Hodgkinson, CEO, Scope (DCC Co-Chair)

Caroline Stevens, CEO, National Autistic Society

Edel Harris, CEO, Mencap

Mark Atkinson, CEO, Royal National Institute for Deaf People

Matt Stringer, CEO, RNIB

Paul Farmer, CEO, Mind

Richard Kramer, CEO, Sense

Dr Ruth Owen OBE, CEO, Leonard Cheshire

To find out more about the Business Disability Forum, click here.

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