Using coronavirus as cover, the Tories are pushing back on the rights of LBT+ disabled women: from suspending gender pay gap reporting; putting aside care assessments and inspections; to signalling regression on trans rights.
Over the years local services have been restructured relentlessly, funding of benefits and facilities constantly curtailed and austerity over the last decade disproportionately hitting LBT+ disabled women – even before coronavirus.
LBT+ status doesn’t directly correlate with coronavirus rates, but we know that social and economic factors result in LBT+ women being more likely to experience inequality. When LBT+ women have an intersecting characteristic, such as having a disability, being older or from a BAME community, disadvantage is exponential. Data from the Office for National Statistics reveal that disabled females aged between 9 and 64 are at greater risk, with a rate of death 11.3 times higher than non-disabled females in the same age group.
Research shows that LBT+ women are physically inactive compared to women generally. Inactivity increases the likelihood of having a long-term health conditions by 40%, translating into LBT+ women being at greater risk. Similarly, LBT+ women smoke and use recreational alcohol and drugs more than heterosexual people, resulting in negative progression and adverse outcomes from coronavirus.
Homelessness is too often experienced by LBT+ women, particularly trans women, because of family rejection. This places them at higher risk and makes accessing health care more difficult.
Domestic violence is disproportionately higher for LBT+ women and barriers to advice and support thwart many disabled women. With calls to helplines increasing significantly during coronavirus, many more LBT+ disabled women are trapped in abusive relationships. As support is focused on straight and cisgender women and accommodation is often inaccessible, LBT+ disabled women are being put at serious risk.
Labour have rightly challenged the government over the death toll in care homes, many of whom are disabled women, who of course live longer and consequently more likely to be at risk to coronavirus. There has been a flurry of Do Not Resuscitate Notices, resulting in a disturbing re-prioritisation of care.
It is also alarming that safeguarding may have been compromised by the Care Quality Commission halting inspections. As Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall cases have demonstrated, service-users are at risk of exploitation. There can be no surprise that many in residential care are worried about violence, abuse, inappropriate medication, restraint and seclusion during the pandemic because they cannot receive visits from family, friends and advocates.
Specialist services have been curtailed, with Gender Identity Clinics for example, adding to already lengthy waiting lists and limiting support to telephone consultations. This means stress and anxiety for many patients, often leading to tragic consequences.
Loneliness is common amongst both LBT+ and disabled women, particularly for those over 70 or people who are struggling with their sexual orientation, gender identity or dealing with the onset of disability. Thus, lockdown and limited outreach support has a disproportionate impact.
The emergency Coronavirus Act means that local councils do not need to carry out assessment and no longer have a legal duty to meet eligible care and support needs of disabled people as set out in the Care Act (2014). Many councils have deferred or streamlined packages of support.
Bias in recruitment and retention, discrimination in the workplace and pay gaps on both LGBT and disability status, present challenges as the country’s economy seeks to recover. Some disabled people are being pressed to go back to work without effective reasonable adjustment, including Personal Assistants in some cases.
Travel and shopping have proven challenging for many disabled people. Social distancing is hard to observe and getting assistance is set to be more difficult. Many of us do not qualify for priority online services, yet it is difficult to get in store assistance. This leaves disabled women feeling even more ostracised.
Our independence and identity are at risk. The government has failed to deliver either LGBT+ or disability inclusive responses to the challenges arising from coronavirus. It hasn’t given any consideration to intersectionality. Any public inquiry or recovery plan needs to address the implications arising from coronavirus on LBT+ disabled women. Failure to deal with these issues will result in further regression of our rights and welfare.
The last decade has been tough for LBT+ disabled women as our rights and life chances have been held back. The effect of coronavirus measures brings this into sharp focus. It is why the case for a new Disability Rights Act is compelling and must be delivered by the next Labour government. Likewise, bringing our rights to fruition must be enabled through a National Independent Living Service.
Moreover, we need to think beyond stand-alone characteristics, to address intersecting factors such as the experience of LBT+ disabled women. The Tories have decided not to implement dual discrimination and socio-economic duties provided for in the Equality Act (2010). It isn’t good enough for a new Labour Government to implement these provisions, but it must go further by covering multiple factors and intersectionality. The Public Sector Equality Duty should be strengthened alongside duties on health inequalities and socio-economic disadvantage.
Reforming the legal framework provides the backdrop to changing our culture, developing the policy and practice of institutions and improving attitudes in wider society. That must involve LBT+ disabled women, giving us a voice and accepting our difference.
Emily Brothers is an Executive Committee member of both the Fabian Society and LGBT+ Labour and she was Labour PPC for Sutton and Cheam in 2015.