Coronavirus and people with disabilities
Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau was established in 1973 with a £500 grant from the, then, Mayor of Ipswich. The coronavirus epidemic has changed the way we work more than anything else. It has changed the lives of staff volunteers and clients. The funding that we raise will enable us to continue to provide a service for our clients and help them and survivors of coronavirus in the future. It is also enabling our staff to remain in paid employment whilst self-isolating and we have only had to furlough one person. It will also help to ensure that our volunteers have a role to return to.
During the coronavirus epidemic
- ‘Lock down’ owing to coronavirus was announced by the Prime Minister on 23/3/2020. However, all of our volunteers and almost all of our staff are in mandatory self-isolation for at least 12 weeks, whether this relates to age, their own underlying health problems or those of somebody who lives in their household.
- However, the staff are all well and wanted to work from home, although one has since tested positive for CoVID-19 but fortunately has recovered.
- We are located in the IP1 postcode which includes some of the tenth most deprived areas in the country, along with further areas in IP2 www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-indices-of-deprivation-2019 A third of our clients live within the IP1 postcode.
- In Ipswich 22% of the population identify as having a disability, in Suffolk, as a whole, that is 21%, whereas the national average is 18% population.
- A large percentage of our clients were also in self-isolation and so we worked at enabling our service to our clients to continue in the current circumstances, particularly focusing on ensuring that they can claim, or retain, their welfare benefit entitlement.
- In turn this enables clients to access the bottom level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
- They will be able to pay their utility bills and avoid getting into debt – provision of warmth and light.
- Purchase food, and soap and other groceries as well, through a friend or home delivery service.
- Have shelter by accessing financial support e.g. housing benefit if they cannot pay their rent and Council Tax.
- Also, most have a 'phone and would have the money to keep in touch with other people, thus minimising mental health problems caused by isolation.
- Fortunately, as it turns out, last year we had to replace our Norstar telephone system, after 20 years of service, as BT deemed it to be obsolete. They helped by enabling the Bureau Manager to learn about ‘Voice in the Cloud’ digital technology and we had a Cloud Voice system installed in July 2019.
- A feature of the Cloud Voice system is that an app can be added to our system, and then uploaded to personal smart 'phones, which then ’become’ a handset in the office for business 'phone calls. Hence, Advisers can assist clients with claim forms and digital applications by 'phone. The client and the Advisers can remain at home. This is very important because appointments to help with completing claim forms can take over two hours each.
- The staff already had their own equipment at home – smartphones, computers and printers – which they are using.
- The Bureau Manager, is deemed an ‘essential worker’, - needed to go to the office to keep the organisation running. She does a courier service getting clients’ forms – that have been put into the external post box, files, stationery, stamps etc. to the Advisers. Supporting evidence e.g. letters and reports from medical professionals, have to be sent photocopied and with the forms.
- The Tribunal Service in Ipswich (along with the Magistrates Court) is one of only 158 similar institutions to be given ‘priority’ status to remain open during the ‘lock down’. Appeals are being heard by Tribunals as planned by telephone conference call and the Senior Adviser has represented at several already.
- It is harder for everyone. About 50 percent of our clients find telephone calls very difficult due to processing information slowly – they will normally try to avoid making calls to those other than their family. In addition, when they are together with an Adviser in a small interview room they concentrate better as there are no distractions. Hence everyone is working longer to achieve the same outcomes. For example, one Tribunal hearing that would normally be scheduled for 45 minutes, took 2.5 hours by conference 'phone call but it had a good outcome.
What happens after coronavirus?
- The government is beginning to relax the self-isolation rules, but our staff and volunteers will not be back with us yet – they come from a mixture of ethnic groups, some being extra vulnerable, the building where our offices are, was built in the 1700s and is grade II* listed and does not allow for effective social distancing, or one way systems, and only has one ramped point of access and our staff and volunteers as well as our clients have disabilities. They will need to continue to work from home for some months yet but we still have the cost of maintaining an office as a base for them to return to ultimately.
We know that, sadly, we will not be seeing some of our clients again ... but medical professionals and scientists are indicating very strongly that we will have large numbers of new clients. Many people will have chronic health problems and disabling conditions as a result of having had coronavirus and, for a number, these will be life-long. During the year to March 2020, we worked on 6,000 cases for about 1,500 clients and dealt with an additional 5,000 enquiries. Although Suffolk was not an epicentre for the virus our workload will increase and so funding that we raise will enable us to provide services to these new clients.
David Hughes - May 1964 to January 2020
Finally, this page is dedicated to our late Vice Chairman, David Hughes. He joined us in 2017 and a crowdfunding page was something that he really wanted to do for us. This is our very first one, which two people are doing remotely via Google chat.