England: disabled, but not ‘vulnerable’

by Lucia A. Amber

Train station departures

Since the start of the pandemic I have found myself in an interesting position. Before the pandemic I was considered an ‘official’ disabled person as I am incapable of work and claiming out of work benefits as well as getting disability benefits. However, things have changed ever so slightly since the pandemic started having an impact on daily life, which has had a dramatic impact on me. 

The government has created a way to register as a vulnerable person, and have sent out letters to those who qualify. This is a very different list to those of us who are considered disabled people, despite there being some crossover, there are also a great deal of people who are considered disabled but not ‘vulnerable’ in this pandemic. 

What this means in practice is that a lot of the informal, often hidden support I relied on has disappeared, taken off me in favour of those considered vulnerable. I am not trying to deny these people the support and care they really need, but simply highlighting that I fall through the gaps. 

The biggest problem has been access to food

Pre-pandemic I relied on internet shopping, as so many disabled people do. A regular delivery of food that I can cook for myself was something that I took for granted. I remember the first week that the impact truly hit, and over half my shopping was missing. I was simply unable to get another slot. There were big signs on the website saying that slots had been reserved for elderly and vulnerable customers (if there were even any to get). I was faced with the prospect of having to go into a supermarket for my weekly shop for the first time in a long time. Social distancing and long queues make this job difficult for most people. For me it was incomprehensible and anxiety inducing. So I started to look at other options. The local council and other voluntary organisations were starting food parcels. Even Morrisons supermarket was doing an ‘essentials box’. A local company was doing veg and fruit boxes. However, none of this helped me at all. I am very limited on what I can safely do in the kitchen and need to be able to carefully plan my meals for the week. I can’t just leave it to chance, or rely on what I call a box of ingredients. Thankfully, after hours of checking each supermarket continuously I managed to get a food delivery, and it all arrived! But that was just one. I have tried my best to get as much canned and frozen food as I can, but there will come a time when that runs out and I am back to square one. I am hoping that restrictions ease or it becomes easier to get a food delivery when I next need one. 

Public Transport

My other problem has been the restriction of public transport. At the moment most of the bus network is running on a reduced timetable, the local bus has gone from one bus every ten minutes to one an hour. As I can’t drive because of my impairment, this is incredibly disabling, making even a trip to the doctors or pharmacy all but impossible, despite only being 5 minutes away on the bus. I am scared of getting on the bus in fear of being confronted, or encountering people who don’t follow social distancing rules properly. The added worry of how dirty the bus is has contributed to my reluctance to use it. I am effectively isolated at home, without the support or recognition I need to sustain it. I needed to get my prescription the other day, so I rang the pharmacy who could only recommend the local council service. I rang them, but as I don’t have a letter, I am not entitled to their support. I had to find a kind person to get them for me. 

I have to admit to some jealousy of how quickly and efficiently the programme for vulnerable people has been set up. I think I am not alone in my amazement at the scale of support that is all of a sudden available, when people like me have been asking for years to receive similar levels of support from various sources. I can only hope that some form of this remains post pandemic to continue to support those of us in society who remain in need.

I have done some research about being in the gaps and my current experience is resonating with my findings. As I don’t quite fit into one neat category or another, my needs are not met and it’s as if I don’t exist. Before the pandemic I fought hard for the right to be recognised as a disabled person, and to get the support and care I need. All of a sudden, without any relevant legislation change my situation has changed dramatically. I have lost the little recognition that I had and needed as a disabled person. Once again, if I need to get any adjustments made for me, I have to out myself as a disabled person, and start the process again, with no guarantee of success. 

Disabled by the environment

I find myself in a position exemplified by the social model of disability, that I am not being disabled by my body but by the environment I occupy and attitudes towards disabled people in that environment. It seems there is the black and white perception that disabled people either have statutory support, or are not in need of it at all. There are many of us who fall between the gaps, living in the precarious space of informal and invisible support, that has currently stopped working.

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