Transcript: Bill Scott: The impact of Covid-19 on disabled people

An interview with Bill Scott, Director of Policy at Inclusion Scotland.

Podcast Episode: Bill Scott: The impact of Covid-19 on disabled people


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MD - Michelle Drumm
MM - Michael McEwan
BS - Bill Scott

MD Bill Scott is Director of Policy at Inclusion Scotland, an organisation that works to achieve positive changes to policy and practice, so that we disabled people are fully included throughout all Scottish society as equal citizens. Michael McEwan, spoke to Bill about the results of their Covid-19 evidence survey which reveals the impact of Covid-19 on disabled people. Please note that this was recorded on 20 April 2020.

MM Okay, so we’re joined by Bill Scott from Inclusion Scotland. So, Bill, what do you think the current situation is and how are people kind of like handling that do you think?

BS I think it’s proving very difficult for disabled people, Michael. We’ve conducted a survey online with our membership and supporters and we got over five hundred responses, and two-thirds of the people responding, either disabled people or carers, were saying that they had difficulty getting access to food. That was a really big issue for a lot of disabled people. Some of those disabled people were in what is called the shielded group, who’ve got specific health conditions where they really need to self-isolate completely. A lot of them weren’t in the shielded group though but they were still people who had compromised immune systems or other health conditions that would make them highly susceptible to COVID-19, and again their worry was that nothing really was in place for them in terms of support, getting deliveries of food to their door or whatever, and the supermarkets weren’t treating them as customers that had a higher need for home deliveries than anybody else, and other people had problems with things like social distancing. Obviously people who are blind can have problems ‘cause they literally can’t see when they’re two metres from somebody else, and other people with learning difficulties and autism had some problems with social distancing as well. So there are a huge number of problems for disabled people in this crisis, yeah.

MM So from a disability organisation’s point of view do you think that there’s enough kind of like information out there for disabled people in terms of like easy read as well, and also when governments speak about lockdown and isolation and stuff like that do you think that they should really put it in laymen’s terms, for a better word, for people to understand and process it all?

BS Yeah, I think they should and I’m pleased to say that there has been a response by Scottish Government in particular to getting information out in easy read about social distancing and about self-isolation. I think that was really important because there were a lot of learning disabled people in particular that couldn’t understand this whole concept of lockdown, no fault of theirs whatsoever, because the information that was coming out, as you say, wasn’t in lay language, wasn’t easy to understand necessarily, and I think that the easy read information that’s come out, we’ve been promoting through our social media channels, through Twitter and Facebook, but I mean there’s still a problem obviously for some people because they maybe rely on broadcast media for their information rather than going online if that’s not available to all disabled people. So we’ve been encouraging the government, the Scottish Government in particular, to make sure that their briefings are accessible, that’s the daily briefings that the First Minister does and some of the health officials and the Cabinet Secretary for Health. So I mean again there we’ve had a good response in that they brought in a BSL interpreter when we asked, and we found the problem then was that the TV companies, BBC and STV, were cutting away from BSL interpreters straight onto the First Minister. So we contacted them and they’ve now got much better about actually showing the BSL interpreters in shot whilst either the Cabinet Secretary or the First Minister are speaking. So I think they have taken on-board some of the information access issues but there’s still more to do definitely, but I think that’s been one area where the Scottish Government response has been quite good.

MM Do you think that, I know you touched on this earlier, Bill, but just kind of like go into it a wee bit if you will about what concerns have your members been facing in terms of the survey, but I’m also thinking about I know how you’ve got individuals that are members, ‘cause I’m a member of Inclusion Scotland, but also kind of like organisations, so what is the message that you’ve got back from those places?

BS I mean again I’ve spoken a wee bit about some of the worries with food in particular and I mean obviously that’s one of the essentials for everyday life. You need to be able to eat. You need to be able to feed yourself. So that’s a big concern and it’s one we’ve been in contact with government with and there is now more being done. The shielded group, they should all have got letters by now. Everybody in the shielded group is supposed to get a letter that gives them a hotline number that they can contact to make sure that they can get deliveries of basic groceries delivered to their home at no cost whatsoever. It doesn’t cost them either for the delivery or the groceries that are delivered if they use the hotline number, and in the last week since last Tuesday another helpline has joined the one for the shielded group, and this one’s for people that are having difficulty accessing food either because of disability or because they’ve not enough income, and again that line puts them in contact with their local council who will try and assist everybody that phones to get help with getting some food into the house. So that concern is being addressed. I wouldn’t say it’s been solved yet. I still think there are problems there. I don’t think everybody that’s shielded has got the letter that they should have got and I think there are a lot of people who don’t know about the helpline, the new helpline that is, for the wider group of disabled people. A lot of people don’t know about it yet and I think there needs to be more done to publicise it and publicise the other government responses and local government responses so that everybody knows about it, ‘cause like I was saying before, not everybody’s on the internet and can look this up for themselves. They need somebody on radio and TV telling them this. I think the government have done a really good job actually through people like Jason Leitch, the Clinical Director for the NHS in Scotland. He’s been on the radio day in, day out, telling people about why social distancing is important and things like that, and I think we need to see such similar action on food because we don’t want people to be going hungry because that’ll make them unwell as well very quickly, if you’re not eating or if people are being forced to leave their homes to go out and get food when they’re at really severe risk. Obviously that’s not good either. So that’s one area. The other area that’s a real area of concern is social care.

MM Mmmhmm.

BS I’m sure this will be of big interest to people that are in contact with Iriss, is that about half the people that responded to our survey said that their social care, well the ones that were receiving social care support before, half of them said that their social care support had either been reduced or in some cases withdrawn altogether since the start of this crisis. Now obviously that is very worrying because without that social care support they’re not able to live the sort of lives that everybody takes for granted, but in some instances again they’re unable to access the shops via a support worker or a care worker that would help them do that. So again if they think they’re at risk or if they are at risk of contracting COVID-19 if they go to the shops, not having social care support means they’re relying on friends and family and unpaid carers to do that for them, and they really need that support. Now again the Scottish Government have said to local authorities they’d make extra money available for additional social care if necessary because they know there’s a real risk there, but I think what one of the big problems for the local authorities has been is that a lot of social care workers are themselves self-isolating, or they’ve got young children, which means because the schools aren’t working that they’ve not had anybody to look after their kids, or they’ve maybe had symptoms of COVID-19 so they don’t want to expose the disabled people that they support to the risk of being infected, and again unless testing is really rolled out to that group of really essential workers, they don’t know whether they’ve got a cold or the normal flu or if they’ve got COVID-19. So again testing is really important for that group and again I know that Scottish Government have been very, very insistent that the money is there to employ additional social care workers if needed, but you still need to find those social care workers, and I think there are real problems arising out of COVID-19 itself that have made it difficult for local authorities, I acknowledge that, but it’s even more difficult for the disabled people that are having to live without the support that they need to get on with their lives. So I hope since the time we conducted the survey that things have got a bit better, but I don’t know whether they have or not yet. So that’s another big area of concern. It’s one that certainly we’ve been in contact with the Cabinet Secretary for Health about and she’s issued a long letter via COSLA saying to the local authorities, “You’ve got to get social care support in place”, because otherwise people end up in the health service and it’s already under huge strain because of COVID-19. So I think the Scottish Government understands the absolute importance of social care, but there’s still some people that are not getting the social care support that they need.

MM Just picking up on what you were saying there, Bill, the last point that you made was very interesting and that was one of the questions I wanted to ask you as well. So once we’re out of the back of this maybe in a few months’ time or whatever, maybe a few weeks’ time according to some people, and get some normality back in your life, what would you like to see your organisation do, other organisations do, but also people outside of the kind of like disability bubble, as it were? What would you like to maybe seem to do better than what they’re doing at the moment?

BS I would like at the end of this that we, disabled people’s organisations, are more involved in emergency planning than we’ve been up until now. You know I’ve been around quite a while in Inclusion Scotland, thirteen years now since I started there, and I’ve not been involved in any emergency planning work at all in that time and I don’t think anybody else in the organisation has, and I think that is pretty essential stuff because I think some of the problems that the government have encountered, I’m not saying they could have been overcome because everybody had to respond really quickly to this, but I think some of those problems would have been anticipated if they’d involved disabled people’s organisations way back in planning ahead for this sort of eventuality. So in the future I would like to see us more involved in that sort of planning because it’s only disabled people themselves that know the issues, with access to services and things like that, that we might be confronted with. So I think we’ve got good channels of communication with government just now and they are responding to us pretty well when we’re raising issues, but it takes time to collect that evidence and in the meantime some people are suffering. So it would have been better if we’d planned that they didn’t need to suffer in the first place. So I hope that the learning coming out of this will be that government and local government needs to work much more closely with disabled people’s organisations to plan for this sort of eventuality, and I mean that is actually what the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people says should happen, that we should be involved in this sort of planning. So that’s one of the hopes I’ve got for the future because I think, with talking to government ministers, that they are open to working with us. I think we just need to see much more of this in the future, because I hope there is never anything like this ever again, but even a smaller scale emergency like flooding or something like that. Disabled people have got specific needs. Like you say, access to information is one of those needs, and if we can anticipate that, we don’t need to remind government that is has to be done in easy read and BSL and things like that. They’ll be doing it automatically because they’ve planned in for it. So that sort of planning is really important.

MM One of the kind of big bugbears of mine at the moment over the past couple of weeks and what have you, over the past couple of months, is how does it take a big kind of like disaster like this for people to realise that we should be speaking to disability organisations or individuals before, and then when they do it’s a bit late?

BS I mean definitely you’re right, Michael. I think we should have always been involved in this sort of planning and it is in many ways late, but it’s not that government doesn’t talk to us about other issues. You know we have people-led policy on social care, on social care reform. There’s actually fifty or sixty disabled people that have been brought together by ourselves and Scottish Government to help inform how reform of social care is planned and social security issues. There was a lot of talking to disabled people’s organisations, there still is, and carer’s organisations for that matter. There’s a number of areas of government policy where we’ve got good roads into the government and there’s good open channels of communication, but I think this is an area that has definitely not been thought through, about what disabled people’s needs are, and I think it is, as you say, it’s one where we really needed to be involved before this happened, not after it happened, ‘cause a lot of problems could have been avoided. So my hope for the future is that we will be, because I think some of the government ministers and officials are beginning to recognise that they need to have our lived experience brought into their decision making so that they get it right first time rather than having to try and put things right, because we bring the problems and the gaps to their attention. So yeah, I do agree with you. I think it could have been done better in the past.

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