Disabled women under “immense pressure” during lockdown

Date Posted: Tuesday 16th June 2020

Disabled women under “immense pressure” during lockdown

Six in ten feared missing out on medicines, and struggled to access food

A third of disabled women have nearly run out of money

New data analysis published today reveals that during lockdown a shocking six in ten disabled women are struggling to access necessities from the shops (63%), compared with 46% of non-disabled men 52% of non-disabled women. Six in ten disabled women also fear missing out on medicines, compared with 43% of non-disabled women and 37% of non-disabled men. They are also under significant financial pressure with a third (34%) of disabled women said that their household has nearly run out of money, compared with a fifth (24%) of non-disabled women and men (23%). Over a third (38%) of disabled mothers said they were struggling to feed their children.

Read the full briefing here.

You can access a large front version of the briefing here

The analysis from Women’s Budget Group, Fawcett Society, Queen Mary University London and London School of Economics shows that:

  • Social isolation has hit disabled women hardest. 56% reported that social isolation was difficult to cope with, compared with 42% of non-disabled women. A quarter (26%) of disabled women said that they had not left the home at all in the last week, compared with 17% of all respondents.
  • Disabled women have lost support and struggle with daily life during lockdown.  A fifth of disabled women (20%) said they had lost support from the Government, and 43% said they had lost support from other people.

Disabled women also faced greater pressures at work. The research found that disabled women who are working from home were more likely to report that they were spending extra time on paid work (58% vs 28% for non-disabled women and 30% for non-disabled men), and also that the work was more stressful (65% vs 40% for non-disabled women and 41% for non-disabled men).

Bethany Young from disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida said:
“Sisters of Frida recognises the significant barriers facing disabled women as a result of the response to the Coronavirus crisis. Intersectional experiences need to be seen and valued. Visibility and policy change is essential, without it we will struggle against even deeper social inequality long after the lockdown ends.”

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group said:
The Covid-19 crisis comes on top of cuts to social security and public services that have disproportionately hit disabled women so it’s shocking but not surprising that a third of disabled women report that they have nearly run out of money. But disabled people have lost out from the Government’s support packages: while Universal Credit was increased, Employment and Support Allowance stayed at the same rate. At the same time, many disabled people have been left without access to care services and other support. As we move out of lockdown the Government must take urgent action to assess the specific needs of disabled women, and take action to meet them.”

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:
“Disabled women’s experiences of this lockdown have been hidden from view until now.  Yet the levels of disadvantage and pressure they face are immense and amongst the highest we have seen.  It is not surprising that over half report high levels of anxiety. Government must reinstate the duty on local authorities to provide support which was removed under the emergency Covid legislation. Our data suggests disabled women are suffering as a result.”

Dr Clare Wenham, Assistant Professor of Global Health Policy, London School of Economics:
“COVID-19, like previous outbreaks, is once again exposing systemic inequalities in society, with the downstream effects of response measures disproportionately affected already marginalised groups, such as disabled people. This research clearly demonstrates that disabled people, and disabled women in particular are more concerned about running out of money, being able to feed their children, whilst suffering from increased workloads and anxiety. The government must consider the knock-on effects of their policy to respond to COVID-19 and how to readdress the additional burden this brings to those most at risk”

Professor Sophie Harman, Professor of International Politics at Queen Mary University of London noted:
‘The survey results paint a very bleak picture for people with disabilities, but my fear is the worst is yet to come with the easing of restrictions. From specific issues such as face coverings (who can wear them, impossibility of lip reading) to wider isolation to sector cuts and restricted access to services. This suggests an urgent need to account for and include people with disability in all decisions over lockdown easing.’

The organisations are calling for action from Government to alleviate these pressures. They say Government should:

  • Increase Employment Support Allowance payments in line with the £20 rise in other benefits like Universal Credit. Up to 2m[1] disabled people have been left behind by this necessary increase, for no reason other than that they have the misfortune to be on legacy benefits.
  • The Coronavirus Act 2020 has lifted some requirements for councils to provide disabled people with support. Government should commit to publishing evidence on the impact of this policy, and say when they will restore rights.
  • Immediately increase child benefit to £50 per child per week to help get support to those who need it most.
  • Ensure supplies of PPE and testing to care home staff as well as domiciliary carers and personal assistants/carers.

Other key findings from the survey include:

Time use and unpaid work

  • A higher proportion of disabled people working from home, but particularly disabled women, reported spending more time working now compared to before the crisis. These disabled women were also more likely to report that they are finding it more difficult to focus at work and that they are finding work more stressful.
  • Women reported doing more of the housework and work to look after their children, and this was no different for disabled women. 68% of disabled women reported doing the majority of the housework, and 73% reported doing the majority of work to look after their children.

Parenting and childcare

  • 40% of disabled mothers reported that their children did not have access to the equipment they needed to study at home compared to 24% of non-disabled mothers.
  • 59% disabled mothers said they were struggling to go to the shops or do other tasks because their child/ren were at home, 60% said they were struggling to balance paid work and looking after their children, and 63% said they were struggling to cope with all the different demands on their time.

Access to support

  • 1 in 5 disabled women reported losing support from the government (20%), and 2 in 5 (43%) reported losing support from other people.
  • A third (32%) of disabled women said they were not sure where to turn to for help as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mental health and wellbeing

  • Disabled women were slightly more likely to say that the current situation was causing a strain in their relationships; 42% said that social isolation was making relationships at home more difficult, compared to 37% non-disabled women.
  • Just 25% and 29% of disabled women reported having high life satisfaction and happiness respectively, compared to 39% and 40% of non-disabled women.
  • Anxiety was highest among women overall, but particularly disabled women. Over half of disabled women (53%) reported high anxiety.

Press offices

Women’s Budget Group

Thaira Mhearban: thaira.mhearban@wbg.org.uk / 07736 658951/ Communications Officer

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson: maryann.stephenson@wbg.org.uk / 07957 338582/ Director

Fawcett Society

For further information, please contact:

Fresh Communication, 0117 369 0025

Nathalie Golden: nathalie@freshcommunication.co.uk / 07769 66 66 27

Lisa Sutherland: lisa@freshcommunication.co.uk / 07801 97 99 87

Sisters of Frida


Note on data

For analysis in this briefing, we grouped respondents as disabled if they said that they were disabled, or had a physical or mental health condition that limits their activities. 678 respondents selected this option, comprising 377 women and 301 men.


Our research is drawn from data collected via online panel by Survation on behalf of the Fawcett Society, with fieldwork conducted 15 – 21 April 2020. Invitations to complete surveys were sent out to members of online panels. Differential response rates from different demographic groups were taken into account.

The survey population was drawn from two sources: firstly, an overall nationally representative sample of 1,7830, and then a number of additional filtered booster samples drawn from online panels used to ensure sample sizes for populations of interest were robust. These populations included parents with at least one child aged 11 or under, people with low income (below the median), and BAME respondents. With these booster samples included, the total sample comprised 3,280 respondents. This included 377 disabled women and 301 disabled men, and 1,382 non-disabled women. The authors of this report then weighted the data to the current Labour Force Survey on the basis of age, gender, region, and education for each population, and conducted analysis.

For the majority of questions included in the survey, respondents were asked to respond on a 5-point Likert scale: ‘Strongly agree,’ ‘Somewhat agree,’ ‘Neither agree nor disagree,’ ‘Somewhat disagree,’ or ‘Strongly disagree.’ Throughout this briefing, responses strongly agree and somewhat agree were combined for parsimony in reporting results.

Only results that are statistically significant are highlighted in the text throughout this report. Because only a sample of the full population was interviewed, all results are subject to margin of error, meaning that not all differences are statistically significant. For example, in a question where 50% (the worst-case scenario as far as margin of error is concerned) gave a particular answer, with the sample of disabled women (377) it is 95% certain that the ‘true’ value will fall within the range of 4.8% from the sample result. With larger samples there is more precision in the estimates; with the sample of 1,382 non-disabled women it is 95% certain that the ‘true’ value will fall within the range of 2.0% from the sample result. 

About us

The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent network of leading academic researchers, policy experts and campaigners that analyses economic policy for its impact on women and men and promotes alternatives for a gender equal economy. Our work on coronavirus can be accessed at: https://wbg.org.uk/topics/covid-19/

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. Our vision is a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential creating a stronger, happier, better future for us all.

Queen Mary University of London is a research-intensive university that connects minds worldwide.  A member of the prestigious Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our world-leading research. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework we were ranked 5th in the country for the proportion of research outputs that were world-leading or internationally excellent. We have over 25,000 students and offer more than 240-degree programmes. Our reputation for excellent teaching was rewarded with silver in the most recent Teaching Excellence Framework. Queen Mary has a proud and distinctive history built on four historic institutions stretching back to 1785 and beyond. Common to each of these institutions – the London Hospital Medical College, St Bartholomew’s Medical College, Westfield College and Queen Mary College – was the vision to provide hope and opportunity for the less privileged or otherwise under-represented. Today, Queen Mary University of London remains true to that belief in opening the doors of opportunity for anyone with the potential to succeed and helping to build a future we can all be proud of.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) studies the social sciences in their broadest sense, with an academic profile spanning a wide range of disciplines, from economics, politics and law, to sociology, information systems and accounting and finance. The School has an outstanding reputation for academic excellence and is one of the most international universities in the world. Its study of social, economic and political problems focuses on the different perspectives and experiences of most countries. From its foundation LSE has aimed to be a laboratory of the social sciences, a place where ideas are developed, analysed, evaluated and disseminated around the globe.