A LABOUR MP has urged the government to consider inclusive messaging for disabled people during the coronavirus pandemic, calling ministers’ current response “poor”.
Marsha de Cordova, the shadow secretary for equalities and women, has spoken of the difficulties that disabled groups may face during the crisis and has challenged the government to do more to support them.
Cordova, who is registered blind, was born with a condition called nystagmus which causes reduced or limited vision. When she received the letter on coronavirus that was sent to every household by prime minister Boris Johnson in March, she was unable to read it. Her condition means she needs large-print documents –Johnson’s letter was in standard print.
“The government’s response, in my opinion, has been poor,” Cordova told Eastern Eye. “The prime minister wrote to everybody, but I couldn’t even read the letter sent to me”
Cordova, a former shadow minister for disabled people, also criticised the government’s “shielding” list which includes people who are most at risk of contracting Covid-19. It excludes a large proportion of ill and disabled groups, such as those who are blind or have conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME).
As a result, some may find accessing certain services difficult. Blind people, for instance, could find it challenging to practise social distancing in a supermarket. “You can try and shop online, but you won’t be seen as a priority, so you won’t be given a priority delivery slot,” the MP explained. “It is a no-win situation.”
Cordova also called on the government to ensure that all communications and public information were accessible to everyone.
She said Downing Street’s daily briefing – which offers the latest details and recovery plans on the crisis – should include a sign language interpreter (such as in Scotland) to help those who suffer from hearing loss. “It is excluding thousands of deaf people who are being left out of vital public health information,” she said. “That cannot be right.”
In wake of the crisis, the government increased the level of universal credit for those who had financial difficulties. However, the allowance for people with disabilities did not increase. “Why was it not increased? That is discrimination in many respects,” Cordova said.
She also wanted the government to ensure that disabled people were “at the heart of their recovery plans and strategies”. “I would like to see (the government) do all they can to ensure all ill and disabled people are receiving the adequate level of care and support,” she added.
Last month, Labour announced a review into the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on the country’s minority ethnic populations.
Headed by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, it is set to analyse the factors behind BAME groups being more at risk of succumbing to the coronavirus infection.
As secretary for women and equalities, Cordova will be supporting Baroness Lawrence on the work she is undertaking during the review. According to the MP, Labour will gather “on-the-ground evidence” from communities and “listen” to opinions from the public, as well as experts.
“(The crisis) has really shone a light and exposed some of the inequalities that we see from health economics as well as social,” Cordova said. “We all know there are so many strands to this, and we really need to start looking into it.”
Cordova, originally from Bristol, has been the representative for Battersea in south London since 2017. Before politics, the 44-year-old worked in the charity sector and held positions at the Thomas Pocklington Trust and Action for Blind People.
She has always been motivated by “wanting to make a difference”. “I recognised the power of politics – I first saw that as a child with the anti-apartheid movement,” she recalled. “I was given a book of Nelson Mandela when I was 10 and that opened my eyes to some of the injustices that took place.
“My vow in my career has always [been that I] wanted to be that voice for the voiceless.”
Since her appointment to the shadow cabinet last month by new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Cordova’s focus has been the response to Covid-19 and how it impacts different groups. In the long term, however, she is interested in addressing issues on representation in leadership and tackling the gender and race pay gap.
In March, the government announced the gender pay gap reporting deadline for 2020 had been postponed due to the pandemic. In normal circumstances, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) could investigate employers who failed to report their gender pay gap data and could face an unlimited fine after court action.
Cordova has expressed her disappointment at the decision. “I don’t know why (government) thought it was necessary,” she said. “I appreciate the crisis that we are in, but I hope they seek to restore gender pay reporting, because it is fundamental.”