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Coronavirus UK: recovery brings an opportunity to right the wrongs for disabled people

As the coronavirus pandemic slows in some countries and the lockdown in the UK continues, disabled writer Paul Cann looks at how the UK government can use this crisis to create inclusion and right some of the wrongs against disabled people in the workplace and financially.

Spain has been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis – there have been more than 14,400 deaths. Images of tourists sipping sangria on the beach have been replaced with pictures of care assistants in Blue Peter-style protective clothing.

But at the weekend just gone, Spain’s Prime Minister borrowed from the aftermath of the Second World War and spoke of a Marshall Plan for the EU economy.

Put into place after the Second World War, the Marshall Plan was a strategy for the reconstruction of the European economies. It was financed to the sum of 12 billion dollars by the US government.

The UK was a major beneficiary of the Marshall Plan and received about a quarter of the money.

The UK economy after coronavirus

The UK government will also be planning a Marshall-style economic revival plan, once the death rate has declined to the point where epidemiologists believe the contagion is in permanent decline.

But we, as disabled people, appeal to politicians everywhere that the plan shouldn’t herald a return to business as usual, or simply an amalgamation of all the business continuity plans out there.

That’s because disabled people have lost so much. Almost all the deaths in the UK and across the globe have most likely been of disabled people.

The phrase ‘underlying health conditions’ could just as easily be translated as ‘disabling health conditions.’

Added to that, we have seen our entitlements under the Care Act suspended. Our status in the NICE guidance has been downgraded to a point where our needs will always come second to anyone else with the coronavirus.

An economic recovery plan that includes disabled people

An economic revival plan from coronavirus offers more than the chance to right wrongs. It should deliver an inclusive economy with new rights and new opportunities.

The opportunity for disabled people to start businesses, initiate tech startup and create new markets must become the new normal.

New government loan and grant schemes for small businesses will show that it is reaching disabled inventors and disabled entrepreneurs.

The goods and services the government pays for, and the public works it invests in, must be assessed for their increased employment of disabled people, alongside the contribution to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

There are a number of projects, such as carbon utilisation, that could do both, and government procurement must favour them. Key economic policies and plans must be updated to show the new priorities.

The rules for procurement should be updated in a new green book. The next national infrastructure delivery plan, due in 2021, must commit to these social and environmental objectives as indicators within the balanced scorecard system of the treasury.

It must be recognised that capturing the contribution of disabled people requires more than banning discrimination – it requires positive interventions.

This is because it is not enough to outlaw exclusion to create economic justice for disabled people, but you also need positive measures that create inclusion, too.

The detail of what the plan will look like may come under discussion as early as the week commencing 19th April. That’s very soon. There is a whole army of disabled people with time and skills to offer. But when looking at the details, it’s not clear whether any work has been done on how to their talents and abilities will be used

Naturally, there are many others who will be thinking the same way, not least the environmental movement, and the crisis opens up the possibility of making common cause with them.

We are in a meta crisis where systems are breaking down and common causes that have multiple effects are being revealed.

Answering that requires us to solve the existential crisis of what gives our lives meaning. The Prime Minister understood this when he said in response to the 750,000 NHS volunteers there really is such a thing as society. The economic revival plan must be measured by what makes us all active participants in society.

By Paul Cann

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