Leonard Cheshire: Initial Response to the International Development Committee’s Call for Evidence

Humanitarian Crises Monitoring: Impact of Coronavirus, April 2020


  1. Introduction


1.1.      Leonard Cheshire welcomes this opportunity to share our views on the impact COVID-19 is having on developing countries across the world with the International Development Committee. As a global organization, Leonard Cheshire works to enable people with disabilities to live, learn and work as independently as they choose, and we support thousands of disabled people in the UK and work in over 50 countries.


1.2.      We are extremely concerned about the impact of this global pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of persons with disabilities, who are often already one of the most disadvantaged and isolated groups in society. Many people with disabilities are poor, out-of-school, or in vulnerable employment, and this is only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for those with existing health conditions.


1.3.      While opportunities for greater inclusion may arise through, for example, the rapid growth in use of technology, there are many areas in which people with disabilities could be left behind. Without vital support, people with disabilities are at risk of being the hardest hit by the crisis. Critical concerns include a reversal of gains made in inclusive education and meaningful employment; how social protection adaptations will be inclusive and how persons with disabilities will access information and support services.









  1. Immediate Concerns: The impact of Covid-19 on people with disabilities


2.1.      It is critical that all policy responses to COVID-19 are disability-inclusive so that people with disabilities are not left behind in the global, national and local responses to this pandemic. There is an urgent need to avoid widening existing disparities, and honour commitments to the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


2.2.      Leonard Cheshire is currently working closely with UN agencies, national governments, and DfID to support governments by providing guidance on how ensure communication to people with disabilities is accessible, as well as participating as disability experts in Emergency COVID-19 clusters.


2.3.      We will submit a second response with detailed information on the concrete impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on our programmatic work, as well as the challenges and opportunities we have identified at national and global levels. But while recognizing that each country will have a different response to the COVID-19 crisis, there is a number of issues that we think need to be urgently considered so that people with disabilities can be adequately protected from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.


2.4.      Our key concerns are:


2.5.           We are concerned about the increased risk people with disabilities are under in terms of safeguarding during lockdown, as well as a lack of prioritization of people with disabilities in safeguarding responses. People with disabilities, and particularly those who experience other intersections of inequality, are at increased risk of harm due to a number of factors arising from or exacerbated by this pandemic. It is essential that policy makers implement comprehensive safeguarding measures that protect people with disabilities throughout the COVID-19 response.


2.6.      Where projects are stalled, we are concerned about long term funding prospects and our ability to run projects to deliver, both in the short-term and beyond, in order to meet the projects outcomes. Funding planning must therefore consider the new constraints and challenges we are facing to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, as well how this will impact the delivery of our programmes in the longer term.

COVID-19 information

2.7.      We are concerned that many of the platforms developed to disseminate information on COVID-19 are not accessible to people with disabilities. Many people in low and middle-income countries have limited access to new technologies, and people with disabilities are less likely than their non-disabled peers to have access to online services. Even when people with disabilities have access to online information, it is often not available in a format accessible to them.


2.8.      It is therefore critical to be realistic about what is possible in low income contexts in the short term where there is generally a severe lack of infrastructure and resources. People with disabilities should not be left behind in efforts to spread COVID-19 related information because one mode of communication is prioritized over the others. Every means of communication, including radio, TV, flyers, should be used to reach people with disabilities, and the content should be made accessible.


2.9.      As a leading programme delivery organization on inclusive education in developing countries, we are concerned about the risk of digital exclusion of children with disabilities as a potential drawback of all the online learning initiatives that have been developed as a response to schools closure. In areas where there is a disparity between people with and people without disabilities in access to technology, children with disabilities risk falling further behind while schools are closed. At the same time, the switch to remote schooling could have positive impacts for children with disabilities if we can make the use of innovative methods and technology for education more widely available and accessible.


2.10. There is also a risk that children with disabilities who have recently begun to be included in education may drop out and not return once schools have reopened. For instance, school closures during the 2014–16 Ebola epidemic increased dropouts, child labour, violence against children, teen pregnancies, and persisting socioeconomic and gender disparities. Inclusion messaging and advocacy initiatives should therefore ensure that the gains that we have already made in getting children with disabilities enrolled in inclusive schools are not lost, and that communities continue to be mobilised to identify out of school children, irrespective of the nature and severity of their disability. Long-term, it will be crucial to closely supervise the reopening of schools to ensure that all our beneficiaries are able to return and receive the necessary support.

Social protection and employment

2.11.      The inadequacy of inclusive social protection systems in low- and middle-income countries is likely to increase the burden of pandemics on people with disabilities. As a result, there is a high likelihood that a greater proportion of people with disabilities will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and be more at risk of experiencing extreme poverty.


2.12.      Given the additional barriers faced by people with disabilities in relation to securing and retaining employment, it is also likely that they will be amongst the hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic. People with disabilities are especially vulnerable because many work in vulnerable employment (short-term, part-time, informal), and may be first to go when businesses lay off; and, secondly, many work as self-employed and will struggle, as business slowdowns or indeed halts altogether due to government restrictions. There is also a risk that diversity and inclusion will take a backseat, as businesses focus on survival, and set aside other priorities or commitments from ‘before’ Coronavirus. This risks limiting employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the immediate future as well as in the long run, and reducing or removing targeted support to existing employees. It is therefore critical that people with disabilities are not left behind in new job markets opportunities and future employment policies.