THE evidence session for Module 2 of the COVID-19 Public Inquiry begins on 3 October, when the spotlight will be on Westminster government decision making between early January 2020 until February 2022.

A legal team representing Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) will be making an opening statement at the outset of the hearings, followed by Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK (DR UK) giving evidence soon after. They will highlight failures in Westminster decision making and their devastating impact on the 14 million Disabled people across the UK.

Later modules in which the DPOs are core participants will then focus on decision making specific to the devolved nations, as well as the vaccine rollout. Module 2 follows Module 1 of the Inquiry, in which evidence was heard that the needs of Disabled people were not properly taken into account in any pre-pandemic planning. This is despite the United Nations expressing concern as long ago as 2017 that there was an absence of comprehensive policies – and failure to include the views of Disabled people – in the planning, implementation and monitoring processes of disaster risk reduction.

Prior to the Inquiry, DPOs made the case for equality issues to be central to its scope. The Inquiry’s terms of reference were revised to reflect this.

Since becoming Core Participants, the DPOs have called for Module 2 witnesses to detail structural disability discrimination in the UK prior to the pandemic and whether this, together with austerity, has led to substantial harm being suffered by Disabled people in the pandemic. In response, Professors Nick Watson and Tom Shakespeare have been instructed to provide an expert report.

The DPOs have also called for the Inquiry to examine whether there was insufficient engagement with Disabled people and DPOs and whether the impact of lock down on Disabled people was ever properly considered. The DPOs now expect all of these matters to be fully examined in Module 2.

Kamran Mallick said “The consequences of Covid touched every Disabled person and their family and friends. Almost 60 per cent of people who died from Covid were Disabled people. We found ourselves dismissed and patronised as ‘vulnerable’, we were last in the queue for health care, our social care was removed or reduced, our rights were restricted and our reasonable adjustments were denied. Disabled people were left without food, were forced to receive support from carers without PPE or testing, were compelled to give up work, were denied assistance on public transport and were harassed for legitimately not wearing face coverings.

“It was a frightening time that revealed we were not viewed as equal citizens and that the Equality Act and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were not embedded into government decision making or planning. We need the Public Inquiry to fully understand the shocking experiences of Disabled citizens, so that its recommendations stop such injustices ever happening again.”

* Source: Disability Rights UK