Long Covid and access to PIP for Black disabled workers

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2022 National Disabled Members' Conference
8 July 2022

Conference notes the news article published in the Guardian newspaper on the 13th of June 2022 which stated that according to the Office for National Statistics, as of 1st of May an estimated 2 million people in the UK reported having Long Covid, as the condition is known.

Conferences notes that Unison Black disabled members have been on the front line in the fight against Covid and have been instrumental in ensuring that vital public services could continue during the pandemic. This has meant that they have been more exposed than most to the physical and mental impact of Covid. The figures for people with long Covid make it clear that Long Covid will continue to be a massive threat to disabled Black workers.

There is also an issue for people with Long Covid who are being turned down for Personal Independence Payments that should allow them to live independently.

Conference further believes that those suffering from Long Covid should not be subject to normal sickness absence process and triggers but should be supported through disability leave and reasonable adjustments. Flexible working should also be offered as well as workplace adaptation in the workplace or at home if they are doing hybrid ways of working.

Conference notes with disappointment that on 9th May 2022 the Equality Human Rights Commission tweeted that workers with Long Covid were unlikely to be disabled. This is a clear misrepresentation of how Long Covid should be considered under the Equality Act 2010. Our General Secretary has written to the EHRC raising concerns that they are misrepresenting the Equality Act.

The Equality Act 2010 in the main does not specify if an impairment is a disability or not. A person is disabled under the Act if they have a physical or mental impairment that has lasted or likely to last for a year or more and which has an adverse impact on their normal day to day activities.

Conference believes many of our Black disabled members with Long Covid are therefore disabled people and should be entitled to both reasonable adjustments and PIP.

Conference notes that PIP is not a means tested benefit. Although the Department of Work and pensions does not collect ethnicity data for PIP claimants, based on anecdotal evidence we have long believed that a disproportionate number of claimants refused PIP are Black disabled people. Critics have said the test is inherently flawed and capricious, and especially unreliable when assessing fluctuating conditions such as mental health illness.

Conference notes that in written evidence to a recent parliamentary inquiry on the quality of PIP assessments the Long Covid Support charity labelled the PIP process “unfit for purpose” and called for it to be overhauled to reflect the breadth and complexity of the condition’s symptoms. This has caused a significant slowdown in the physical and mental wellbeing recovery of people in the UK living with Long Covid. It has left thousands of frontline Black disabled workers with a debilitating condition after being exposed to the virus while protecting this country.

Conference therefore calls on the National disabled members committee to:

1)Support Unison’s work through the TUC on the industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) to recognise Long Covid as an occupational disease including calling for government funded research into work related exposures, risk and disability

2)Campaign through Labour Link to promote the need for long Covid to be recognised as an occupational disease

3)Re-endorse the campaign agreed at 2021 disabled members conference “for the government and employers to recognise that people with Long Covid can be defined as disabled under the Equality Act” and that they should be granted access to PIP

4)Ask regions and branches to raise these issues with employers as a priority in ongoing negotiations, so as to seek to get reasonable adjustments for those with Long Covid agreed and included in relevant policies and procedures

5)Liaise further with the EHRC to seek to ensure their advice on Long Covid is in line with the Equality Act 2010.