Amo Raju has been with Disability Direct in Derby for more than 25 years.

 

A woman was found to be down to her last slice of bread when lockdown checks were made on disabled people in Derby.

Suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, Jenny, in her 60s, was found living alone in a city bungalow.

Completely isolated, she had no relatives living nearby and said that none of her neighbours had asked about her when the city went into lockdown.

It was only because Derby charity Disability Direct had retained the details that she was contacted and received the help she needed.

Jenny, which is not her real name, told them that she was down to her last slice of bread and had no other food in the house.

Hers is one of many heartbreaking stories of loneliness and suffering likely to emerge, says the passionate leader of the charity which helps many of Derby’s vulnerable disabled people.

The charity was able to step in and provide regular food parcels without which the woman may have been completely forgotten.

Amo Raju, who heads Disability Direct, said that the city’s disabled residents were left with “massive levels of anxieties”, stress and loneliness during lockdown.

He says that without the support of the charity, which he has been part of for 26 years, many vulnerable disabled people would have been entirely forgotten.

Mr Raju told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that his staff contacted every single client or former client on their books as soon as lockdown was announced.

The firm helps up to 4,000 people in Derby every year and 10,000 nationally, with 30 volunteers and 51 paid staff.

Over the next few months, Mr Raju says he is expecting to hear from a growing number of disabled residents who have been left alone and without support.

This comes as a Public Health England report shows people with learning disabilities were six times more likely to die from Covid-19 during the first wave of the virus.

Researchers estimated that as many as 692 per 100,000 people registered with a learning disability may have died between March 21 and June 5.

They suggested this is because people with learning disabilities are more prone to obesity and diabetes, which can increase the risk of dying from Covid-19.

Mr Raju says society as a whole needs to take a serious look at itself and how it treats disabled people and what priority it gives their care and support.

He says this must start with people looking out for their neighbours and stretch to equal support at work and investment in access to services – which must be bound by law.

Mr Raju told the LDRS: “Nobody is sticking up for them.

“They have suffered massive amounts of anxiety during lockdown and have had even more social isolation than they already had.

“I predicted before lockdown happened that disabled people would be the biggest cohort of people affected due to the pre-existing conditions many of them have, with a bigger risk of dying or suffering complications.

“The immediate need when lockdown was announced was scary and highlighted how vulnerable this group was.

“We identified right away that so many people employed carers themselves in their own homes, due to their social care packages, and those carers were coming in without any personal protective equipment (PPE) because they couldn’t get hold of it.

“So we had to react quickly and sourced it through sponsorship and grants and gave it to them free of charge.

“There was a massive cohort of people in the city that just went without.

“It was worrying.

“A lot of disabled people did not make it on the government list for priority shopping and we worked with agencies to get food parcels out to our clients.

“Disabled people now feature very low down on the government’s list of priorities for the vaccine and are just put in the usual categories of age-range, which is causing massive anxiety.”

Mr Raju says Government messaging on lockdown and Covid prevention did not cater to people with learning disabilities, which he says was a costly oversight.

He said: “I don’t think the story’s over, there is more to come and when the analysis happens as to what happened and why it happened I think some nightmare stories are going to emerge as to what was going on deep in our communities.

“I am asking society to really pay attention to disabled people, and carers as well, in their neighbourhoods to make sure they are physically and mentally connected to society and able to access services.

“Even if you think someone is ok, there is no harm in saying ‘hello’. We are socially distancing but you can knock on a door, steep back a few feet, and ask if everything is ok.

‘Since working with Black & White PR, the profile of Disability Direct and the great work our charity does has increased massively at a local and national level, not only to the media but funders too! I thoroughly recommend you get in touch with Neil and the team to help showcase your products and services. We’re certainly pleased we did!’ – Amo Raju, CEO, Disability Direct.

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