When we met in Brighton in November last year for UNISON’s 2019 National Disabled Members Conference we had no idea what was to come in 2020.
In January we watched with increasing worry as the coronavirus
spread in China. For disabled workers like us, the threat of COVID-
19 was especially concerning. By March our worst fears were
realised when we faced a global pandemic and a UK-wide lockdown
Disabled people are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 and
UNISON’s first concern has been for our members. Many of our
disabled members have continued to go to work during the
pandemic – whether in the NHS or local councils, as care workers or
teaching assistants, or in the private sector.
Our reps have worked tirelessly to keep disabled members safe,
including negotiating home working, fighting for individual risk
assessments for disabled staff and raising concerns about lack of
PPE and reasonable adjustments.
There was a brief lull over the summer as we hoped we might have
seen the worst of the virus, but it now looks increasingly like we are
facing a second wave. UNISON will continue to fight disabled
workers’ corner, workplace by workplace. We will also continue to
hold government to account for the many mistakes they have made
in handling the crisis – from lack of PPE and testing for key workers
to ignoring disabled and Deaf people’s rights.
We have to believe that there will eventually be a vaccine. But
UNISON is clear that there can be no “back to normal”.
The pandemic has highlighted how inequality means that disabled
people – and Black people – are more at risk from disasters like this.
So we will step up our fight for fairer workplaces and a fairer society.
The key workers – our members – who have kept us all safe during
the pandemic – need to be paid a decent wage. And the inequality
that is endemic in our workplaces needs to finally be addressed so
that disabled, Black and other workers are never again
disproportionately affected in the way we have been by COVID-19.
We hope to see you all again in happier times at a future National
Disabled Members’ Conference. Stay safe.
Graeme Ellis and Tansaim Hussain-Gul
Co-Chairs National Disabled Members Committee
Kathleen Kennedy and Iain Scott-Burdon
Co-Vice Chairs, National Disabled Members Committee