This article explores the third sector’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the experiences of disabled people in England and Scotland. It draws on semi-structured longitudinal interviews with 71 disabled people and 31 key informants, primarily from disabled people’s organisations. The third sector’s nimble response, supporting people in myriad innovative ways, emerged as a key finding. In contrast, statutory services were experienced by many as a barrier rather than an enabler, posing doubts about the state’s ability to respond to the crisis. Our findings raise questions about the role of the state and the third sector. We employ and critique Young’s typology of sector–state relations, concluding that the state needs to engage with the third sector as an equal and strategic partner, recognising its civil society credentials. Further, we raise questions about the appropriateness of using supply and demand models to understand the third sector’s societal role.


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Cullingworth, J., Watson, N., Shakespeare, T., Brunner, R., Pearson, C. & Scherer, N. 2022, '“They have been a saving grace in all this”: the role of the third sector in disabled people’s experiences of COVID-19 and implications for sector–state relations', Voluntary Sector Review. https://doi.org/10.1332/204080521X16593450428164

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Last updated: 04 October 2022
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