When the first lockdown occurred in March 2020, the world slowed down; streets and offices emptied and opportunities to socialise in person were paused. But as DW moved to working online and our small team expanded, recruiting people from all over Wales, our work went from strength-to-strength.
Our 2021 Annual Conference and AGM offered a unique opportunity to reflect on our work and share our successes with our members who were also given the opportunity to share their views and concerns following a tumultuous year. Discussions provided invaluable insights for our team as we continue to strive for the rights and equality of disabled people in Wales for the 50th year in 2022.
Here, our Chief Executive, Rhian Davies, reflects on DW’s work for 2020/21.
Chief Executive’s Report
The impact of Covid-19 on society overall and disabled people particularly, has been profound and far-reaching. The pandemic exposed the inequalities that already existed in society. Ten years of austerity has taken its toll on disabled people’s incomes and rights to independent living. The past year has exacerbated the perilous situation in which many disabled people find themselves.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that in Wales, disabled people comprise 68% of deaths from Covid-19, well above the UK average of 59%. Even more shocking was how little political, public or media attention was focussed on this grim finding. Deaths among older and disabled people were regarded as inevitable rather than preventable.
DW dedicated the launch event of our Bring us our Rights Manifesto, held on the International Day of Disabled People, to the memory of all disabled people who had lost their lives directly or indirectly to Covid-19. We pledged that their deaths would not be in vain and that we would use our Manifesto campaign to build back better and create the fully inclusive world which all disabled people deserve.
DW during the pandemic
Through the dedication of staff and Board, we remained fully operational throughout the pandemic.
Setting ourselves up as a virtual organisation overnight, we continued to deliver our work programme, albeit focussed initially on responding to the emergency. We aimed to keep members informed of latest developments and equipped as far as possible to respond to the different phases of the crisis. We provided regular updates on evolving government guidance, using reliable sources of information and counteracting misinformation, for example, regarding exemptions from mask wearing and vaccination scams.
We arranged online consultation events and raised members and beneficiaries’ issues and concerns with Welsh Government Ministers and senior officials, including on matters affecting people shielding, the impact of the reduction in services and the overnight transformation of the streetscape, which created further barriers for many disabled people.
As well as involving members in mainstream media stories, highlighting the significant impact of Covid-19 on disabled people, we created a platform for beneficiaries to tell their own, through video projects such as Lockdown Life and the NLCF funded Unlocked Lives.
Despite the challenges, we have delivered our work programme targets building on previous achievements and progressed with work planned pre-Pandemic. This includes production of the Bring us our Rights Manifesto ahead of the Senedd 2021 elections, our campaign to promote the Social Model of Disability, and provision of online sources on the impact of Brexit on disabled people.
In total we delivered 19 engagement events to 388 participants across Wales many related to the impact of Covid, but also the development of the Manifesto and our Social Model campaign.
144 participants working in WG employment services attended 4 training sessions on the Social Model of Disability with the aim of improving support and provision to disabled people seeking work.
To inform a range of policy consultations we circulated 5 online surveys on different themes which were completed by 367 respondents.
We substantially increased our reach and influence online through our website which attracted over 200k views, with 12k visiting our Social Model pages.
Nearly 1,500 new followers joined our Twitter and Facebook platforms, extending our social media reach to approximately 18.7K organisations and individuals. DW’s Twitter posts achieved 1.7million impressions.
We produced and uploaded 17 video explainers on the impact of Brexit on disabled people and produced an online toolkit for Business Wales advisors to better support disabled entrepreneurs.
Supporting Disabled People’s Organisations
We are delighted to welcome two Disabled Peoples Organisations into full membership: Aubergine Café and the Spinal Injuries Association, bringing the total to 29 full member DPOs.
We are particularly proud to have distributed £163K in Covid Emergency Grants to 9 DPOs in Wales, as part of a UK wide consortium of National DPOs, which was awarded £1.3m by the National Emergencies Trust. In Wales additional funding from Welsh Government boosted the number of projects we were able to fund as well as extend their services and activities.
It is the first time that a fund specifically targeted at DPOs in Wales has been available. It provided a platform for their vital work in supporting disabled people in their communities, helping to tackle isolation, support independent living and increase income. To help with the sustainability of their work beyond the emergency funding, we appointed Richard Newton Consultancy to provide bespoke training and coaching to the DPOs involved in the programme.
Representing members / Locked Out report
DW’s core role is to represent the views of members with the aim of informing and influencing government policy. Led by Policy and Research Officer Meg Thomas, the Bring us our Rights Manifesto was the successful product of engagement with over 200 members and beneficiaries via online focus groups and surveys.
68% of respondents told us that they did not feel that their rights were being adequately enforced and 76% were not confident that this would improve over the next 5 years. Not surprisingly, the main call for action within the Manifesto was incorporation of the UNCRDP in Welsh law. This achieved cross party support during the Senedd Elections and is now a commitment within the Programme for Government.
This and other calls to action were also included in the recommendations of the evidence-based report Locked Out: liberating the lives and rights of disabled people in Wales beyond Covid-19. Commissioned from the Disability Equality Forum by the then Deputy Minister and Chief Whip Jane Hutt MS, it was written by Prof Debbie Foster in coproduction with a steering group of disabled people and Forum representatives. It was a great privilege to chair the Steering Group that produced such a hard-hitting report.
Drawing on more than 300 items of evidence, detailing the discrimination and exclusion faced by disabled people during the pandemic, the Steering Group presented the report to the First Minister Mark Drakeford MS. Acknowledging the seriousness of the findings, he agreed to the formation of a Disability Rights Task Force which would consider the report recommendations and draft an Action Plan to address these.
A key finding in the Locked-Out report was that the lack of disabled people in positions of influence contributed to decisions that had negative consequences for many disabled people. DW has long lobbied for more support to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people standing for elected office to ensure that political decision makers reflect wider society.
We were delighted therefore when Welsh Government put forward legislation to enable the establishment of the Access to Elected Office Fund in Wales and to secure the contract to deliver the scheme. Philip Westcott was recruited as Civic Participation Officer and the Fund supported two disabled candidates standing in the Senedd Elections.
Welcoming new staff members
In addition to Philip, we were also pleased to welcome Emma Cooksey as Finance and Administration Officer, Alex Osborne as Information Officer and Leandra Craine as DPO Emergency Fund Co-ordinator. The recruitment and induction process was undertaken online with everyone working remotely and very effectively since their appointments.
Leandra is a former student intern via Go Wales and we were delighted to continue to offer placements to 7 disabled students throughout the year albeit on a virtual basis. To broaden the opportunities available, we submitted a successful bid to WCVA Volunteering Wales to support student placements with DPOs around Wales.
Throughout the year our small team of Directors and staff have continued to strive for the rights and equality of disabled people. Special thanks go to Policy and Programmes Manager, Miranda Evans for her leading role in inducting a whole new team online and developing a strong sense of unity and purpose despite the challenges of remote working. Much is owed to our volunteer Board, led by Chairperson, Wendy Ashton for their wisdom and dedication in directing the organisation in such unchartered times.
Bring us our Rights!