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

Humanitarian Crises Monitoring: Longer term impact of Coronavirus, implications and lessons to be learned. May 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. Leonard Cheshire (LC) is a leading inclusive development agency, with 70 years’ experience in supporting persons with disabilities across the globe. We deliver our projects through local partners, whilst also contributing to mainstream programmes with our technical expertise on disability and inclusion. We hold the Secretariat for the Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance, a network of over 200 organisations across over 50 countries, one of the world’s largest networks wholly dedicated to supporting persons with disabilities.


1.2  We are extremely concerned about the short- and long-term impacts 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 persons 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  There are many areas in which persons with disabilities could be left behind, and without vital support, they are at risk of being 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 COVID-19 information and support services.


1.4  At the same time, opportunities for greater inclusion may arise through, for example, the rapid growth in use of technology, as well as the normalisation of working from home policies, that can help build more disability-inclusive working environments.



DFID should, as a matter of urgency, provide clarity on future funding plans that take into account the new constraints and challenges we are facing to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. This should include taking consideration of the impact the crisis will have on the delivery of DFID, and other UK Aid funded programmes in the longer term.

Policy makers, governments and funders, including DFID, must work closely with people with disabilities and their communities to understand the issues and risk of harm and effectively promote awareness and appropriate safeguarding responses.

DFID and other funders must ensure that short-term and long-term policies which support children to continue to learn are disability inclusive. Global, national and local initiatives supporting distance learning platforms must be available and accessible to children with disabilities, and children with disabilities must not be left behind when schools reopen.

UK ODA spending post COVID-19 must support the implementation of employment schemes that create jobs and promote employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

DFID and other funders must collect data on the impact of COVID-19 that is disability inclusive and use best practice methodologies to ensure comparable, accurate, quality disability data collection.

Policy-makers, within the UK and in countries receiving UK development assistance must take action to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully included in COVID-19 responses, with particular attention being paid to their access to information, education, employment, social protection and safeguarding.

Leonard Cheshire recommends that the UK Government makes use of this crisis to learn crucial lessons in areas including: making official information sources accessible to all; using distance learning platforms to enable all children to learn; supporting the normalisation of working from home policies; and ensuring adequate social protection mechanisms are in place to reduce the impact of such global crises on the poorest and most vulnerable.


  1. The emergence, incidence and spread of coronavirus virus infections and the COVID-19 disease in developing countries


2.1  Leonard Cheshire currently works in countries in the Africa and Asia regions. More than 30,000 cases[1] of COVID-19 have been reported in the Africa region so far, and almost 500,000 have been reported in Asia (excluding China). Currently, Africa's infection rate and death rate appears much lower than other regions, but a report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Africa warns that the virus could cause anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million deaths and push 27 million people into poverty in the region, and new cases continue to be reported every day.[2]


2.2  Various degrees of lockdown measures are in place in all countries in which we work, and as a consequence, all our programmes have had to be adapted. Both the lockdown itself and post-lockdown measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will cause a delay in programme delivery, thereby affecting the ability of our organisation and others to meet previously agreed delivery targets and deadlines.


  1. The direct and indirect impacts of the outbreak on developing countries, and specific risks and threats (particularly relating to countries with existing humanitarian crises and/or substantial populations of refugees or internally displaced persons)


3.1  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).


3.2  Leonard Cheshire is currently working closely with a variety of stakeholders and partners such as UN agencies, national governments, and DFID to support governments by providing guidance on accessible communication for persons with disabilities, as well as participating as disability experts in Emergency COVID-19 clusters.



3.3  One of the most critical direct impacts of COVID-19 is its effect on the well-being and safety of persons with disabilities. We are concerned about the increased risk persons with disabilities are under in terms of violence and abuse during lockdown, which is further perpetuated due to the impact on authorities and aid organisations’ ability to respond to safeguarding alerts. Persons 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. For instance, children with disabilities are often those in the household who are most at risk of violence and abuse and not being fed. Persons with disabilities may also be more at risk from being adversely affected by the virus due to underlying health conditions and from government safety messaging not being appropriately accessible. They will also be further negatively impacted by an unequal access to health care and treatment for COVID-19 due to accessibility issues and negative perceptions, in some communities, of their quality of life.


3.4  All the programmes we run have been affected by lockdown measures, and we have developed new workplans to ensure our programmes focus on inclusion and safeguarding is incorporated in our COVID-19 responses. We are making efforts to continue safeguarding practices, such as providing reporting mechanisms and keeping in contact with individuals at risk. However, there are still significant challenges. For instance, it can be difficult to communicate directly with the children we support to access an education, and parents cannot always be contacted. In one of our programmes fewer than half of their parents have access to a phone. We have started looking at mitigation techniques to support our beneficiaries, such as in our programme in Kenya where we have a helpline for reporting abuse, and radio programmes to raise awareness of the specific issues people with disabilities face during the pandemic including recognising abuse. At the same, we have experienced some challenges in continuing the safeguarding activities that are an essential part of our programmes. For example in Bangladesh, we had to put on hold our face to face safeguarding trainings with employers. We have now adapted this programme to provide online safeguarding sessions for our partners and develop supporting materials.


3.5  It is therefore essential that policy makers, governments and funders, including DFID, work closely with persons with disabilities and their communities to understand the issues and risk of harm and effectively promote awareness and appropriate responses. Including safeguarding measures that are inclusive of persons with disabilities in COVID-19 responses must be a key priority for funders, including DFID. Funders must prioritise the delivery of safeguarding in existing programmes, but also, where necessary, offer additional funds to support the adaptation of activities. It will also be critical to assess what safeguarding needs have materialised as a result of the lockdown and develop plans to address those. These should also feed into preparedness responses to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities.


3.6  The widespread closure of schools has had an impact worldwide. Statistics compiled by UNESCO estimate that more than 1.5 million learners have been affected (90% of total enrolled learners) with closures announced across 190 countries. Many global, national and local digital learning initiatives have been introduced or scaled up in order to allow children to continue to learn from home.


3.7  As a leading programme delivery organisation on inclusive education in developing countries, we are concerned about the risk of digital exclusion of children with disabilities as a potential drawback of online learning initiatives that have been developed as a response to school closures. 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.


3.8  We have also witnessed the indirect impact of school closure on services children access while physically present at school. For instance, children attending schools often receive support such as assistive devices, sanitary pads, medication, as well as school meals.


3.9  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. 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.


3.10          All stakeholders involved in platforms supporting learning during and post lockdowns must ensure the needs of children and young persons with disabilities are integrated into initiatives, exploring alternative ways of learning from the onset. These platforms should not only be rolled out during pandemics but should support more systemic changes to how education is delivered to allow more children with disabilities, including children who are out-of-school, to access learning. Long-term, it will also be crucial to closely supervise the reopening of schools to ensure that all our beneficiaries are able to return and receive the necessary support. It will also be crucial to ensure that hygiene measures put in place to reduce the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus do not interfere with the return of children with disabilities to school.

Social protection and employment

3.11          The economic shock and disruption brought on by COVID-19, especially to developing countries, is estimated to be substantive, while the inadequacy of inclusive social protection systems in low- and middle-income countries is likely to increase the burden of pandemics on persons 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.


3.12          In many developing countries, applying for social protection schemes can be a long, burdensome and complex process, and many people with disabilities are not covered by government schemes. Even when people with disabilities apply and get access to social protection schemes, they are often paid very small amounts of money that isn’t enough to live on. With COVID-19, we have witnessed that in some developing countries, such as Bangladesh and Kenya, many people with disabilities are not getting access to government food baskets.


3.13          The looming job crisis is expected to disproportionately affect some groups, including persons with disabilities. Full or partial lockdown measures are affecting around 81% of the world’s workforce (almost 2.7 billion workers) according to the International Labour Organisation. Given the additional barriers faced by persons 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.


3.14          Persons 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 staff. Additionally, many persons with disabilities are self-employed and are likely to struggle, as business slows down 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.


3.15          It is therefore critical that persons with disabilities are not left behind in new job markets opportunities and future employment policies responding to the crisis. Policy makers need to support the implementation of strong social protection mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable and leave no one behind. UK ODA spending post-COVID19 must therefore support the implementation of employment schemes that create jobs that promote meaningful employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Lack of data to understand scale of problem and specific challenges


3.16          Data collection and analysis are two key components of COVID-19 responses, and a key part of our programmes. We are currently providing technical guidance on collecting disability inclusive data and evidence to policy makers. For example, we are supporting the Government of Thailand to understand the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities in Thailand.


3.17          We are also currently undertaking data collection on the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities globally, and are working with Disabled People’s Organisations in Bangladesh and Kenya to collect data on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities in relation to employment and social protection to eventually influence inclusive employment and social protection policies as a result of COVID-19. In addition, we have launched an international online survey covering education, health, employment, social protection, stigma and discrimination, and gender-based violence.


3.18          Yet, limited availability of quality, disability disaggregated data is a recurring issue in many developing countries. It is essential that data is disaggregated by gender, age, location, and other characteristics to enable an intersectional analysis of the impact of COVID-19 to take place. Without this data, there is a risk that the true extent to which persons with disabilities have been affected is not captured, hence invalidating and delaying any response intervention.


3.19          Data collection initiatives on the impact of COVID-19 must therefore be disability inclusive and use best practice methodologies to ensure comparable, accurate, quality disability data collection.


  1. The impact of the outbreak on DFID’s operations (staff absences or reassignments, the impact of travel restrictions and other risk mitigation measures)


4.1  The main impact of the outbreak on DFID’s operations we have witnessed is the impact on our own DFID-funded programmes. As many international aid workers had to return to their home countries or work from home, and there are currently no opportunities to meet face to face, we had to agree on activity adaptation and budget reallocation plans. Therefore, we have been proactively trying to re-align our budget to ensure we can continue to deliver support and make our activities COVID-19 contextual. For instance, in Kenya, the Girls Education Challenge Transition programme has been adapted in order to re-allocate money for remote teaching of teachers.


4.2  However, we are concerned about long term funding prospects and our ability to deliver and meet projected outcomes, both in the short-term and beyond. Funders, including DFID, have been very supportive and provided us with the flexibility we needed to amend activities from existing budgets and redeploy funds in order to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, whilst also fulfill our duty of care towards our staff as we were able to continue paying them. Nevertheless, we have no guarantee that we will have access to the additional funding we need in order to meet the contracts’ original targets, and without certainty of funding it is difficult to plan a response which will effectively meet the needs of our beneficiaries at this time.


4.3  There is currently no complete clarity from funders, including DFID, on what will happen with existing programmes in the medium/longer term, as well as a lack of clarity on long-term funding opportunities and where funding will be prioritised. Yet, we need clarity on how much flexibility there is to adapt our deliverables and timelines to ensure we can continue working towards meeting our project outcomes and supporting our beneficiaries with current needs. It is expected that DFID’s focus is going to be on increased funding for humanitarian aid. While it may make sense in the short term to prioritise humanitarian assistance, programmes supporting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in employment and education which secure long term solutions must not be dropped as these are crucial to lift people out of poverty.


4.4  DFID must provide clarity on future funding plans as well as additional funding opportunities, taking into account the new constraints and challenges we are facing to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and deliver our programmes in the longer term. Communication on this matter needs to address the underlying and ongoing barriers persons with disabilities face as well as the additional barriers created by COVID-19, and how this pandemic is disproportionately affecting persons with disabilities and programmes aiming to lift them out of poverty. We also would like additional clarity from DFID on how long-term funding opportunities and planning will be impacted by COVID-19.


  1. Lessons identified and learned/applied from previous experience with infectious diseases (for example, Ebola); the implications for DFID’s policy on a global heath strategy


5.1  Access to timely and accurate information for all during a pandemic is crucial. Yet, during the Ebola crisis, we witnessed key differences in how persons with disabilities access information. In 2015, we undertook a three-year research project in Liberia funded by ESRC-DFID to collect data on Ebola. The research found that households with a disabled member in affected communities were more socially isolated (10% non-disabled households vs. 90% disabled households), and disabled households were more likely to go to community leaders for information (90%). For non-disabled households this was more spread out (38% community leaders, Government 40%) meaning that persons with disabilities are at risk of social isolation and misinformation since they’re heavily relying on information about dealing with diseases from non-government sources.


5.2  There is also a risk that the information is not accessible to persons with disabilities, because of the communication channels used or because of the format in which the information is presented. For instance, we are currently concerned that many of the platforms developed to disseminate information on COVID-19 are not accessible to persons with disabilities. Many people in low and middle-income countries have limited access to new technologies, and those with disabilities are less likely than their non-disabled peers to have access to online services. Even when persons with disabilities have access to online information, it is often not available in a format accessible to them.


5.3  There is a crucial lesson to be learnt about ensuring that official information sources are accessible to all, including people with disabilities. It is equally critical to be realistic about what is possible in low income contexts where there is generally a severe lack of infrastructure and resources. Persons with disabilities should not be left behind in efforts to spread information because one mode of communication is prioritised over the others. Every means of communication, including radio, TV, flyers, should be used to reach persons with disabilities, and the content should be made accessible.


  1. The impact of the outbreak, and consequential mitigation measures, on fund-raising by UK-based development charities/NGOs


6.1  COVID-19 has had a significant impact on Leonard Cheshire’s finances. In the UK, we have had to spend additional £400,000 a month on purchasing Personal Protective Equipment, due to the inflated prices of PPE and the increased demand from our care services. With regards to our international work, adapted work is continuing and 100% of the staff we employ overseas are still receiving their salary, but we don’t have clarity on whether there will be cost extensions to fulfil the original programmes targets as well as adapted activities.


  1. The impact of the outbreak on UK aid funding in the longer term.


7.1  The UK is expected to suffer a 35% drop in economic output as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown measures, and the UK’s debt burden could increase sharply in 2020-21 as a result of the anticipated recession. We are therefore concerned that the amount of funding available for international development will be dramatically reduced.


7.2  Any new contingency measures should not affect DFID’s commitments to persons with disabilities, including the implementation of DFID’s Disability Inclusion Strategy and DFID’s Global Disability Summit commitments. This is particularly important to avoid jeopardizing the progress made so far as a result of DFID leadership. It will be crucial that any decision-making process around UK aid and DFID’s funding takes place through an open and transparent process which emphasises meaningful consultation with stakeholder groups, including persons with disabilities and Disabled People’s Organisations, and which includes robust accountability mechanisms in which those stakeholders can engage.


For further information, please contact: Pauline Castres, Policy Manager at Leonard Cheshire (pauline.castres@leonardcheshire.org).



[1] WHO, 4th May 2020, ‘Coronavirus situation report’ Available at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200504-covid-19-sitrep-105.pdf?sfvrsn=4cdda8af_2.

[2] UNECA, April 2020, “Covid-19 in Africa: Protecting lives and economies’. Available at: https://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/PublicationFiles/eca_covid_report_en_rev16april_5web.pdf.