News broke last week that Rishi Sunak was considering a tax on online shopping to help the high street. This caused outcry from a number of businesses(https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jul/27/rishi-sunak-online-sales-tax-protect-high-streets-coronavirus), and clearly the tax will be passed on to consumers. He therefore missed something more than the implication to businesses/consumers, he missed out his duties under the Equality Act.
Disabled people often shop online as this is the safest,and sometimes only, option. As a part time wheelchair user I can tell you first hand of the difficulties of shopping from a physical access point of view.
On a recent shopping trip I found disabled toilets supposedly in use but actually blocked off by cones with no supplies like soap or toilet roll available. I found shops where the ramp doesn’t quite meet the door, and yes this meant I was stuck in the doorway, half in and half out.
Shops have one way systems that have not left enough room for wheelchairs (or prams) to manoeuvre. Some shops have created systems of one way in and one way out. That’s great, but please tell me how I get my wheelchair in down a flight of steps as the ramp is out only?
Yet more shops have decided in order to create social distancing they will only allow one of the double doors to open, yet many wheelchairs need wider entrances and both doors to open. Shops have locked some of these shut which prevents wheelchair users entering, with no staff nearby that can unlock and allow entrance to the shop. I was physically prevented from entering this shop.
Access fail after access fail whilst going around shops and this is not new to Covid-19 life. Some shops have removable ramps, but no way of alerting the shop that you’re outside and need to use it, even after emailing in advance.
In addition to all these barriers there’s many more, such as sensory barriers through noise, lighting and smells. Less than 10% of shops, I believe, have loop systems for hearing aid users, never mind how few people can actually use BSL. Then there’s mental health issues that can make it near impossible to go shopping or leave someone’s home.
Add all these barriers together and many disabled people shop online as it’s infinitely easier. But wait, a new tax on online shopping? That sounds like a tax on disabled people to me. Our cost of living is already higher by thousands of pounds per year. According to SCOPE in their Disability Price tag report of 2019, the Average additional costs faced by disabled people was £583 per month! (https://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/extra-costs/disability-price-tag/ ). With a new tax proposed on one of the few things that can be easily accessed, online shopping, this cost could be set to rise even higher.Many disabled people already go without essential items due to cost, surely this tax will create further harm?
With access to benefits and services a complete post code lottery in the UK, how are the majority of disabled people expected to absorb these costs? PIP (Personal Independence Payment) is an absolute joke, with many people still being refused what they are entitled to. With less than a third of new claims being approved and so many disabled people forced to go to a tribunal to get the benefits they are entitled to, with around three quarters of tribunals successful. The stress of trying to claim these benefits, and reclaim every two to three years is astronomical, yet still they do not meet the additional costs of disability.
Alongside this, we are seen as disposable to the current government during their response to Covid-19. Two thirds of people who have died from Covid-19 had a disability, this should be abhorrent, yet too often disabled lives are not given the same value as non-disabled lives. Where is the investigation as to why disabled people are dying at such significant rates? Could it be the stark and brutal inequalities in health where disabled people are often not listened to, not believed and rarely investigated thoroughly for health issues? Surely, with statistics like these, online shopping would be expected for disabled people. (https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/coronavirus-call-for-inquiry-and-urgent-action-after-shocking-disability-death-stats/ )
This is not just an economic issue, this is an equality issue. This is about disabled people being targeted yet again because they are disabled. This is about an Equality Act that offers very little actual protection or rights to disabled people, yet a lot of protection to employers and businesses that can prove they have made some sort of attempt. This is about penalising people who often cannot work, cannot work full time or are in lower paid jobs (the disability pay gap is very real). This is about yet another charge to people who are sick, chronically ill and disabled. This is what inequality looks like. The disabled being financially penalised again and those in power not even considering how this might affect disabled people. It’s as if we don’t exist, we shouldn’t exist or at best we are an afterthought.
We want equality, we want equal rights in law, we want to be included and we want access.
Vikki, 04 August 2020