The seriousness of the threat of coronavirus applies to everybody’s health and safety but this is a particularly worrying time for disabled people and those who care for them. The government has been introducing and regularly updating guidance to in order to try and safeguard people and the NHS from the potential impacts of the virus.
This article will summarise the key points of current guidance for disabled and vulnerable people, as well as those who care for them, and link to their sources. Whether your young person is now at home because their school is closed, they are independent with their own job or they live in a residential setting, we can help.
In addition, we have linked some of our own articles for you to read. From bloggers to legal experts, we will be sharing stories and helping to connect communities during this unsettling and uncertain time.
What's in this section?
Every citizen must comply with these new measures. The relevant authorities, including the police, now have the powers to enforce them – including through fines and dispersing gatherings.
Standard Guidance below will apply unless you are in an area where local lockdown measures have been implemented, the guidance is designed for us to be able to return to near normality as soon as possible, as well as to protect our communities and the NHS.
It remains the case that anyone who has symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms, should not leave their house to go to work. Those people should self-isolate, as should those in their households.
As of 22nd June, Mencap has produced an easy read guide to current guidance on Coronavirus, shielding of vulnerable individuals and how to protect yourself and loved ones.
The Government guidance has now been updated to focus on the next stage of the plan to return to normal life, see staying alert and safe (social distancing) for full guidance
- you may, if you wish, meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors, including people from different households, while maintaining strict social distancing
- you no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household
- in line with the wider guidance for single adult households (either an adult living alone or with dependent children under 18) in the general population, you may from this date, if you wish, also form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. All those in a support bubble will be able to spend time together inside each other’s homes, including overnight, without needing to socially distance
Social distancing guidelines – One Metre plus
Physical distancing guidelines are still in place and must be observed.
A “1-metre-plus” approach will mean members of the public can be 1 metre away from each other, as long as other measures are in place to limit the transmission of the virus.
These measures include:
- wearing a face covering,
- installing screens,
- making sure people face away from each other
- providing extra handwashing or hand sanitising facilities.
Compulsory Face Masks
Already compulsory on public transport, from the 24th July, face masks will also be compulsory to wear in shops and supermarkets. Those who fail to comply with these measures will face fines of up to £100.
Does this include people with hidden disabilities?
The government says people with medical conditions or disabilities which mean they cannot wear a covering will not have to do so.
You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes:
- not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
- if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
- if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
- to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
- to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
- to eat or drink, but only if you need to
- to take medication
- if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering
Full Government guidance can be found here.
Research from Disability Rights UK found that 40% of disabled people fear being challenged for not wearing a face covering on public transport, which raises questions around how social stigma surrounding those who are unable to wear masks might be addressed. More widespread use of masks which will happen after has also caused concern for those who rely on lip reading to communicate.
What should I still not do?
You should not:
- Socialise freely. You should only be socialising in groups of up to two households indoors (this includes when dining out or going to the pub) and outdoors or up to six people from different households outdoors.
- interact socially with anyone outside the group you are attending a place with, even if you see other people you know, for example, in a restaurant, community centre or place of worship
- hold or attend celebrations/ parties where social distancing is not possible
- stay overnight away from your home with members of more than one other household (your support bubble counts as one household)
It is against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces). Further, you should only be socialising in groups of up to two households indoors and outdoors or up to six people from different households outdoors.
What can I do now that I couldn’t before?
From 11th July:
- you can participate in team and other grassroots sports where guidance is in place
- outdoor swimming pools and water parks can open
- outdoor performances in front of an audience can take place with social distancing in place, indoor should occur only when no audience is present
From 13th July:
Close contact services, such as nail bars, salons, tanning booths, spas, massage parlours, tattoo parlours and body piercing studios, can open.
Only services that do not involve work in the highest risk zone – directly in front of the face – should be made available to clients, in line with government guidance.
From 25th July:
Sports facilities and venues, including such as indoor gyms, fitness and dance studios, indoor swimming pools and indoor water parks, will open.
Am I vulnerable?
Not all disabled people will fall into the category of ‘vulnerable groups’ and not everyone in this category will self-identify as disabled. ‘Vulnerable groups’ means people who are more susceptible to the coronavirus and COVID-19. This group includes those who are:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- Under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- long-term chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
- those who are pregnant.
Current Guidance for the clinically vulnerable
- The clinically vulnerable may, if they wish, meet in a group of up to six people outdoors, including people from different households, while maintaining strict social distancing
- no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household
- may form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. All those in a support bubble will be able to spend time together inside each other’s homes, including overnight, without needing to socially distance
Shielding is due to be paused from the 1st August
From this date, the government is advising you to adopt strict social distancing rather than full shielding measures. Strict social distancing means you may wish to go out to more places and see more people but you should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household or support bubble. In practice this means that from 1 August:
- you can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe
- children who are clinically extremely vulnerable can return to their education settings if they are eligible and in line with their peers. Where possible children should practise frequent hand washing and social distancing
- you can go outside to buy food, to places of worship and for exercise but you should maintain strict social distancing
- you should remain cautious as you are still at risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus, so the advice is to stay at home where possible and, if you do go out, follow strict social distancing
Test and Trace
In order to avoid confusion, this guidance has been taken directly from the test and trace guidance on GOV.UK (updated as of June 1st)
How NHS test and trace service works:
There are two main scenarios on which the test and trace operates, either:
- You have symptoms
- You are contacted because you’ve been in contact with someone who has symptoms
Contact tracers will:
- call you from 0300 013 5000
- send you text messages from ‘NHS’
- ask you to sign into the NHS test and trace contact-tracing website
- ask for your full name and date of birth to confirm your identity, and postcode to offer support while self-isolating
- ask about the coronavirus symptoms you have been experiencing
- ask you to provide the name, telephone number and/or email address of anyone you have had close contact with in the 2 days prior to your symptoms starting
- ask you if you have family members or other household members living with you. In line with the medical advice they must remain in self-isolation for the rest of the 14-day period from when your symptoms began
- ask if you have had any close contact with anyone other than members of your household. We are interested in in the 48 hours before you developed symptoms and the time since you developed symptoms. Close contact means:
- having face-to-face contact with someone (less than 1 metre away)
- spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
- travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even on a short journey) or close to them on a plane
- if you work in – or have recently visited – a setting with other people (for example, a GP surgery, a school or a workplace)
We will ask you to provide, where possible, the names and contact details (for example, email address, telephone number) for the people you have had close contact with. As with your own details, these will be held in strict confidence and will be kept and used only in line with data protection laws.
Scenario 1 – If you have symptoms of coronavirus
- isolate: as soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, medical advice is clear: you must self-isolate for at least 7 days. Anyone else in your household must self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms
- test: order a test immediately at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access
- results: if your test is positive, you must complete the remainder of your 7-day self-isolation. Anyone in your household must also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to self-isolate
- share contacts: if you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS test and trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you with instructions of how to share details of people with whom you have had close, recent contact and places you have visited. It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that we can give appropriate advice to those who need it. You will be told to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by one of our contract tracers.
Scenario 2 – if you are contacted by the NHS test and trace service because you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus
- alert: you will be alerted by the NHS test and trace service if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The alert will usually come by text, email or phone call. You should then log on to the NHS test and trace website, which is normally the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you must do. Under-18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue to
- isolate: you will be told to begin self-isolation for 14 days from your last contact with the person who has tested positive. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell because, if you have been infected, you could become infectious to others at any point up to 14 days. Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you if you do not have symptoms, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with you at home.
- test if needed: if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household must self-isolate immediately at home for 14 days and you must book a test at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access. If your test is positive, you must continue to stay at home for at least 7 days and we will get in touch to ask about your contacts since they must self-isolate. If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14-day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet – this is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
The NHS coronavirus app
The NHS coronavirus app is currently still under development, more information will be added here when available.
Tests for Coronavirus are now available, below we have the latest available information on who is currently eligible for a test, and how to get one.
Who is eligible
- patients with suspected symptoms of COVID-19
- essential workers including NHS and social care workers with symptoms
- people over 65 with symptoms
- people with symptoms whose work cannot be done from home (including construction workers, shop workers, emergency plumbers and delivery drivers)
- anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who lives with any of the groups identified above
- social care workers and residents in care homes (with or without symptoms) to investigate outbreaks
- NHS workers and patients without symptoms, in line with NHS England guidance
Arranging a test
You can select a regional test site drive-through appointment or home test kit, the guide for using the self-referral portal is available here.
Home testing availability is initially limited, but involves a swab of the nose and back of the throat.
The NHS is aiming to return results of tests within 48 hours, or 72 hours for a home test.
Isolation – staying safe and well
Looking after your health and wellbeing during these times of lockdown and self-isolation is essential, so we’ve put together some tips which may be useful.
Getting essential groceries
To support those having difficulty getting food and essential supplies, some shops are setting aside special times for NHS workers and vulnerable customers, including carers, to shop; as well as giving priority for on-line shopping deliveries and other community support. (Some stores may vary, this list is subject to change):
- Asda – Fridays from store opening till 9 am
- Aldi – check local stores
- Iceland – the first hour of opening, every day
- Lidl – check local stores
- M&S – Monday and Thursday, the first hour of opening
- Morrisons – Monday to Saturday, 9 am-10 am
- Sainsbury’s – Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 am-9 am
- Tescos – Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 am-10 am (not Express stores)
- Waitrose – first hour of opening, every day
It’s currently extremely difficult to get delivery slots for online shopping, because of this a number of supermarkets have also set up dedicated slots for vulnerable customers:
- Sainsbury’s – are currently working on an option for people to register themselves as disabled and vulnerable on their online shopping accounts. Elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers should get in touch on 0800 328 1700 to be placed on the priority list (22nd March)
- Morrisons – setting up a telephone helpline – wait for further announcements
- Iceland – Delivery service only available for those over the state pension age, the vulnerable and those who are self-isolating – you must declare this when you place an order.
Accessing food and supplies if youre clinically vulnerable
If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable you should have received a letter from the NHS asking you to self isolate, the letter should also tell you how to register for deliveries of food parcels to your home.
If you have not yet registered for support, you can either:
- register online
- call 0800 028 8327
You need your NHS number to hand when you register. This will be at the top of the letter you have received letting you know you are clinically extremely vulnerable or on any prescriptions.
Looking after your mental health
If you feel like you need emotional support and cannot contact a friend or family member, there are a number of helplines available:
- Samaritans can provide emotional support – call FREE on 116 123
- Mind can support those with mental health problems and advise where to get help – 0300 123 3393
Advice for informal carers
Many of the people reading this will be caring for their vulnerable children or young adults. The NHS has written to everyone considered to be at risk of severe illness if they catch the coronavirus. You may have received the letter yourself, either as someone in this ‘high risk’ group or as the named carer of the young person you care for.
If a person you care for has received this letter, the instructions state that they must stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, except you as their carer and healthcare workers continuing to provide essential medical care.
Carers UK has advice on creating a contingency plan if carers become ill with coronavirus and cannot provide care in the same way they usually do.
Benefits and financial advice
People receiving benefits do not have to attend Jobcentre appointments for at least 3 months, starting from Thursday 19th March 2020. Special arrangements will be in place for people in receipt of benefits who cannot attend reassessments or Jobcentre appointments because they have to stay at home or have contracted coronavirus. They include:
- disabled and sick claimants who cannot attend a reassessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit will continue to receive their payments while their assessment is rearranged
- people who need to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note
- when claimants tell us in good time that they are staying at home or that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will not be sanctioned – we will review their conditionality requirements in their claimant commitment, to ensure they are reasonable
- claimants who are staying at home as a result of coronavirus will have their mandatory work search and work availability requirements removed to account for a period of sickness
For people who need to make a new claim for support:
- those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending the Jobcentre
- the 7 day waiting period for ESA for new claimants will not apply if they are suffering from coronavirus or are required to stay at home – so it will be payable from day one
Read more about disability benefits and coronavirus at GOV.UK
Education and EHCPs
Fast-tracked legislation has been passed to manage the outbreak of the coronavirus and this has impacted education and EHCPs. The Coronavirus Bill allows Local Authorities (LAs) to use their reasonable endeavours to ensure that provision and support in Section F continues to be available to meet education, health and care needs and to prioritise their efforts to support those with the most complex needs.
The Bill is attempting to offer flexibility to LAs in respect of Special Educational Provision (detailed in Section F of the EHCP) and to enable an LA not to deliver some or all of the provision contained in an EHCP if it is not reasonable to do so at this time.
Obviously, the risk of temporarily downgrading the duties of the LA means that parents and young people could find it difficult to take action against the LA to enforce provision required to meet their child’s needs in the interim and the correct way forward will need to be considered on a case by case basis.
Rukhsana Koser, Solicitor Education Lawyers at Langley Wellington LLP Solicitors offers some guidance on this confusing and rapidly changing situation here.
Guidance on isolation for residential education and care settings
The government has issued guidance to support children and young people in:
- Children’s homes
- Residential special schools and colleges
- Other further education (FE) providers with residential accommodation
Here, you will also find advice on managing isolation for individuals and groups in the event that a child, young person or staff member shows symptoms of coronavirus or is confirmed as having it.
Helping your children understand
Many children are worried about the Coronavirus and explaining such an unusual situation is not always easy, especially if your child has additional needs. Here are some resources that you can use to help communicate what is going on to the children you support:
- Social stories. A social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and help children understand and process them. For something like the coronavirus, social stories can be invaluable in breaking down how something on such a global scale can affect your child’s day-to-day life and why things have suddenly changed for them. This is an example of one from Autism Bedfordshire.
- The Children’s Commissioner has put together a guide for children explaining the coronavirus and how it is impacting people’s lives. It includes a video about good hand washing and a worry buster where children can write about anything they feel anxious about. Download the Children’s Guide to Coronavirus.
- Everybody’s favourite Dr Ranj has just launched his podcast called A Kids Guide to Coronavirus where he answers questions sent in by kids about what’s going on at the moment. You can listen at GlobalPlayer.com
- Our monthly columnist Carly Jones MBE also wrote for us recently, sharing her tips for communication, if you have autistic children and you are all adjusting to being isolated together, with no external support. She offers tips such as staying creative, having no speaking days and not limiting the iPad. Read Autism, communication and the coronavirus here.
Many schools are currently undergoing a phased return to opening, with some opening 1st June to selected years (it’s important to note this is varying depending on area and school capacity).
- Nursery and pre-school children plus pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 are due to go back first
- The government says secondary schools in England will be able to reopen to Year 10 and Year 12 from Monday 15 June, but only a quarter of pupils from those years will be allowed in school at any one time.
How will school be different?
Many schools are creating plans that include: keeping classroom doors and windows open to encourage airflow and introducing one-way systems around school buildings.
Here are seven other things that could look different:
- No more than 15 children per classroom – kept separate from others
- Pupils asked to stay 2m (6ft 6in) apart where possible – but this will be difficult with younger children
- More regular hand washing – for at least 20 seconds
- Staggered break and lunchtimes, different arrival and departure arrangements
- Less sharing of equipment such as books and toys, with fewer items taken home
- Parents should not gather at school gates or in the playground
- Carers should only enter school buildings by appointment
If any pupils or staff – or anyone they live with – develop coronavirus symptoms, they will be asked to stay away from school.
Students old enough to will be encouraged to travel separately and avoid public transport when possible.
Do I have to send my child to school?
It is not currently compulsory to send children to school, this temporary arrangement – where usual sanctions do not apply – is expected to continue in England during the summer term.
Homeschooling may be already be the norm for many parents of children with disabilities and/or additional needs, however, some of you may find yourselves thrown in the metaphorical deep end. Luckily, there are resources available:
It’s important not to put too much pressure on yourselves. Whilst educational activities are beneficial, in these unusual times, it is probably more important to be there for your children and to help them through it emotionally. Concentrate on spending quality time together and doing fun things, but remember you may both need space. Be kind to yourself!
We will be putting together some helpful resources and tips for keeping your children occupied very soon so look out for it but in the meantime, you may find our monthly columnist’s article How Home Education Helped Us helpful.
Current government guidance states that people should only be travelling to and from work where their work absolutely cannot be done from home. This means that disabled people may suddenly find themselves suddenly working from home without the assistive technology they use in the office to help them with their job. Employers need to be aware that the following adjustments may need to be made:
- Equipment for people with a visual impairment
- Adapted office furniture such as chairs and desks
The Business Disability Forum Advice Service can offer more information about what disabled people are entitled to if they are forced to work from home.
Cue cards can help during video conferences or chats, which can sometimes be busy and stressful. Print the sheets out onto A4 paper, cut them out and them up to the camera if you need to use them.
Equality and making a complaint
Fry Law provides practical help on how to complain effectively when you think that you have been given ‘less favourable treatment’ by a service provider simply because you are disabled. It has been urgently updated for the COVID-19 pandemic and now includes additional template letters to assist people with trying to obtain priority bookings at supermarkets.
For parents of disabled children who need shopping delivered to their home, we have heard cases where they have been refused an online priority slot because they themselves are not disabled. This is obviously unfair and unacceptable and in response to this, Fry Law are urging parents to pursue their complaint. You can download the template letter here.
Our latest news and blog articles related to Coronavirus
The summaries of guidance and articles listed here are not a full and complete recitation of the original policies and guidance as provided by the government, health authorities and associated organisations. These summaries have been prepared in an effort to highlight key elements of these documents and articles, and bring them together in a single accessible location, NOT to replace them in any way shape or form. Every effort has been made to avoid mischaracterizations and to present these policies and guidance in an unbiased manner. Any failure to do so is unintentional. The full versions of every document mentioned can be viewed in their entirety through the relevant links.