Gunta Anča: "A crisis is a fantastic opportunity to spot the weakest links"

Lockdown was a strange time of self-understanding. On the one hand, it was like a dream come true... to stay at home and have enough time to do all those things I'd always wanted to do, but didn't have time for. On the other, it made you realise how important socialisation is for people - to meet, talk, touch, see other human beings in reality and not on a screen. And how hard it is to live without all that.

This experience changes your values and makes you think in a different way. But it also shows new ways of working together. It is possible that after this crisis we will have more online meetings, which are much easier, but at the same time do not really allow us to create new ideas together and develop new forms of cooperation.

There are and will be many lessons for our society. I wouldn't be able to mention all of them, so maybe I will highlight just few in the field I know best - people with disabilities.

This crisis has shown how bad the situation is in long-term care centres. Many people with disabilities and many elderly people just died there and some countries did not even include these deaths in their coronavirus statistics. Five years ago, our Committee drew up an opinion on the deinstitutionalisation of care. There have been some changes since, but the crisis has shown how much we still have to do.

At the same time, we have been talking so much about support systems for the most vulnerable groups in society, but the crisis has shown that, despite all the support measures, people with disabilities were one of the first groups to lose their jobs.

A crisis is a fantastic opportunity to spot the weakest links in our support systems and now is the time to do our best to make them stronger.

The role of civil society organisations during this crisis has been and will continue to be very important, as they are the closest to all members of society. People from different groups need to be supported and civil society organisations are the best place for them to find that support.

These organisations are also best placed to know what kind of help people need, so it is incredibly important to involve them in the decision-making process.

As our experience in the field of disability has shown, there have been a great many different approaches. Some countries have included organisations of people with disabilities in governmental decision-making bodies (Italy), and some have given them the opportunity to express their views at a very high level (Spain), but in some others these organisations have just been forgotten (Latvia). And this reveals how much importance the governments of the different European countries attach to their different citizens.