The vaccine rollout is giving us all hope. Whether you’re one of more than 21 million people who have had at least one dose of the vaccine, whether it’s your parents or grandparents who have had it, or whether you’re simply following the progress and eagerly anticipating restrictions lifting for the 21 June. The progress is undeniably good news after a wretched 12 months.
Having reached our target to offer a coronavirus vaccine to the top four priority groups by 15 February, we’re now making progress on the 50 plus group. And of course, it isn’t just about age. Those clinically extremely vulnerable, those with learning disabilities and adult carers are also front of the queue for a vaccine.
Helping make sure carers get that call, are my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions. There are carers spread across the country who receive Carer’s Allowance or other benefits, financial support that helps them play a crucial - and often overlooked - role in our communities.
By sharing information with NHS services in England we’ve got more than half a million of our vital carers on the list, helping make sure they are offered the vaccine as quickly as possible. And when the Welsh Government asks us, we will also do all we can to help them identify carers. The Scottish Government has already put in place its own arrangements.
I have also met with key stakeholders and charities throughout the pandemic, including a productive session last month with vaccines Minister Nadeem Zahiwi to discuss vaccine prioritisation. The role carers play matters enormously to me because of their role in the lives of disabled people.
As the pandemic took hold, my priority was to make sure there was no disruption to disabled people receiving their benefits – or applying for them.
We, of course, suspended face to face assessments to help keep people safe - and we’ve backed that up by developing new ways to carry out as many assessments as possible by phone or from paper evidence to make sure payments weren’t interrupted. And specifically for carers we made changes to protect their payments and ensure they still received them even if they took a temporary break from caring because they, or those they care for, got coronavirus or had to self-isolate because of it. And we now plan to extend these changes again so that they are in place up until the end of August giving carers peace of mind until everyone has been offered a vaccine.
Meanwhile, I have got our plans for a National Strategy for Disabled People back on track as we begin to look ahead to a future beyond the end of the Prime Minister’s road map.
We’re undertaking the biggest listening exercise on disability policy in recent history to understand how we can improve the lives of disabled people and I’m absolutely committed to making sure this is a strategy that’s underpinned by direct insight from disabled people – including their experience through this pandemic. Alongside our national survey which received over 14,000 responses, we’re continuing engagement with over 200 organisations through forums, workshops and cross-cutting groups, as we gather as wide a range of views as possible.
So right now, the work in my Red Box spans two time zones. The here and now – where my actions steady the foundations of support for disabled people. And for the future – where I’m determined to make sure we take this moment in history to build back fairer.