Confident, Connected, Contributing.

Story shared 30.6.2021

Glasgow Disability Alliance is run by and for disabled people. They have 5000+ members across Greater Glasgow — diverse disabled people, people with long term conditions, and member organisations led by disabled people; and a thriving network of associate members — people, partners and allies who support their aims.

What difference has the pandemic made to the communities you serve and what impact did you see on your services as a result?

Before COVID-19, disabled people were already facing a ‘Human Catastrophe’: decades of inequality made worse by austerity. The pandemic and responses have supercharged the inequalities we already faced, and created new ones, with long term impacts. Disabled people’s voices will be vital to ensure Scotland’s social and economic recovery leave no one behind.

Through COVID, Glasgow Disability Alliance learned that although we are all in the same storm, we have not all been in the same boat- and we still aren’t. Everyone caught in the COVID-19 storm needs a lifeline that can pull them out of danger when they need it most – but for disabled people there were, and are, fewer lifelines within reach. Decisions made at the start of Lockdown left disabled people with no support to wash, dress, eat, go to the toilet or take medication. And many supports have as yet, not been reinstated – despite Scottish Government providing additional funding to Local Authorities.  Read GDAs Action Research report Supercharged: a human catastrophe

Over 20 years GDA has built a disabled people led community of interest, connecting 5000 disabled people across Glasgow we quickly mobilised this infrastructure to engage our members’ lived experience and expertise, and develop a COVID response shaped and led by disabled people.

GDA members experiences of the COVID- pandemic short film:


What has the NET funding enabled you to do for those people you help?

Our NET grant enabled us to fund 2 key posts. One of our 2 Welfare Rights Officers (WRO) - The key role of the WRO is to support people who apply for and appeal social security assistance benefits and provides representation at tribunals. During the pandemic this has expanded to also include some crisis interventions, e.g. dealing with utility cut-offs, housing debts, crisis grants, debt support and referrals to GDA and externals sources of support, including emergency food provision.

The other post funded was a new post of Community Development Officer (BAME Disabled People) who was recruited to provide dedicated support to disabled people of colour who were requiring additional support to engage in GDA’s digital inclusion and online learning programmes. An existing BAME disabled people’s network was previously well attended pre-Covid but we had lost our staff member who supported this group.

The new worker recruited is herself a disabled person of colour and speaks 4 different community languages and has been quickly able to engage and support people to join the network, build the capacity of the network and increase referrals to GDA and external services. The group is now meeting online and the worker is providing regular telephone support to others unable / unwilling to join online meetings.

A recent success was the production of a podcast made by disabled asylum seekers and refugees, produced for Refugee Week – available here:

I got some great help from GDA to get on Zoom and meet others and join the BAME network. [the worker] was able to arrange an interpreter, who helped me take part in a course which was great. They then showed me how to chat with my cousin, which I did on Sunday by myself. I was really pleased to be video chatting and I enjoy the company as I’m unable to get out of the house. I’ve been so lonely but this has opened up so much for me. I never dreamed that I could possibly do this!

The funding also enabled us to continue our vital GDA Rights Now service for disabled people. From 1st March 2020 – 31st March 2021 GDA Rights Now supported 497 individuals and £839,852.65 projected financial gains were secured for disabled people, via Welfare Rights advice, information and representation, online and by phone. During this time the Welfare Rights Advisers maintained high caseloads and secured significant successes in financial gains, despite challenges of remote working and tribunals being conducted on telephone and/or online.

The team also led on our consultation response on the future delivery of social security in Scotland, including focus groups with GDA members and JRF. 

Without the Rights Now support I don’t know what I would have done. They stopped me from having my electric cut off and reassured me the landlord could not evict me. They sorted out my benefits situation, got me some crisis money and referred me to GDA Lifeline so I could get food delivered. They literally saved my life!

What challenges/opportunities do you see ahead?

We were disappointed that so many official supports closed down so rapidly at the end of the first lockdown period. There was little in the way of transitional support – e.g. people being told by the Red Cross this was their last shielding box, people having devices removed, SIM cards running out, funding streams closing, etc.

The sudden closure of helplines at the end of lockdown and the reliance once more on contact via email / website at a time when many of those in need were still experiencing digital exclusion, had an impact not only on disabled people, but on our service.

As an organisation we were given very little warning that local and city wide supports were closing and meant we had to quickly cope with new referrals coming through from people who were still in urgent need of support of all kinds – wellbeing, digital, mental health and food. As a result our free helpline number must remain in operation and we continue to promote our services to ensure no-one falls through the gaps.

As one of our members put it, we must “Supercharge the Voices of Disabled People to highlight what must be done to make sure disabled people are not left behind, in ordinary times as well as in times of extreme crisis. This is the only way to halt a major regression in rights and equality and is an approach supported by the UN who report that the involvement of disabled people and their organisations is key to tackling ongoing discrimination.

We plan to work to support a range of partners who have approached us for support in developing and delivering on support to those most excluded and in particular in involving them in online support, services and events.

While we must continue to deliver services and supports for disabled people and pushing the agenda in terms of accessible service design, we must also concentrate on stabilising our organisation and sustaining our funding in the longer term.

The future of DPO’s - Why DPOs are important and why we need to invest in them and protect them in the future?

Much of what could have been done differently was outwith our control - things done fast were not necessarily done well. Community responses, Shielding, food co-ordination, IT projects, etc. had repeated failings: by not, understandably, having time to involve disabled people, responses and actions left us behind. This is a perennial challenge and an endemic problem.

Had disabled people’s organisations been involved in planning for disasters, had codesign of plans and actions been embedded and had the recommendations of the Christie Commission been enacted, we would not have fallen through gaps.

Disabled people need the support of their peers – it is not enough to merely involve disabled people. They need to have opportunities to build identity, skills and confidence to take up the challenges presented in being codesign partners. DPOs have a wealth of experience, skills, knowledge and values to make sure diverse disabled people are front and centre of our organisations, our work and our communities. This is especially vital now that there is greater competition in terms of access to funding and seats around the tables of power. We are in danger of being pushed aside by those who claim to represent us, but are not us.

Much good work was done during the pandemic but far more must be progressed to ensure that disabled people’s human rights are protected and so that there is not dramatic and draconian regression of rights at such times of global challenge. Without investment in DPOs and their status enhanced as key partners in planning, policy making and resilience work, disabled people will continue to be left behind.

Read more about Glasgow Disability Alliance