During the course of this pandemic, it has become obvious that workers like ourselves who are both Black and disabled are more likely to be impacted by COVID-19 than non-Black and non-disabled workers. Why?
We’re more likely to be working in front line jobs where we have higher contact with the public. We’re also more likely to be low paid or on zero-hours contracts where we don’t get paid if we don’t go to work. And we’re more likely to face dual discrimination related to our disability and ethnicity so we often don’t want to cause ‘trouble’ by raising concerns about PPE and safety at work.
But it’s not an accident we’re in low-paid, frontline jobs. It’s a result of discrimination in the jobs market – what’s often called ‘structural racism’.
As a result of this pattern of racism and disability discrimination, we’re more likely to die from COVID-19. It’s quite a scary thought.
Like all of UNISON’s Black disabled members, we have been working hard throughout this crisis. We have both been working from home during the pandemic and are extremely fortunate that our employers have been supportive. We know that many other Black disabled members are not in this position.
In fact, a recent survey of UNISON’s Black members showed that 17% of respondents who had a letter requiring them to shield had continued to work in their usual workplace during the pandemic for all or most of the time.
These Black disabled members were continuing to go to work, at great risk to their own health and lives, even though they should have been allowed to either work from home or to take special paid leave.
Other survey respondents who were shielding or had underlying conditions had to take unpaid leave or go on Universal Credit, as their employer would not agree to homeworking or special paid leave. Unfortunately, these challenges are all too common, and this is why UNISON is calling on the government to carry out a full investigation of the equality impact of the pandemic.
It has been a challenging time for us too. Peter has lost two friends to COVID-19. He’s found it really hard not to be able to visit loved ones who are sick and has found the strict funeral restrictions made the process of grieving even harder.
Veronica has been shielding throughout, as have several members of her family. Despite shielding, she has found it difficult to access food deliveries and to get repeat prescriptions without leaving the house or relying on others to go out on her behalf.
The Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness of the structural racism experienced by Black people in our society, and created a momentum of worldwide anti-racist solidarity.
Now is the time for Black disabled members and allies to stand up, speak out and get active in their union.
UNISON has a Black disabled members’ network, which raises the concerns of the members who self-identify as Black and disabled, and we encourage all Black members and disabled members to get involved in Black and disabled members’ self-organised groups.
We must continue to fight for our rights, and we ask our colleagues to stand up and speak out in solidarity with us. Because Black disabled lives matter.