THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC AND THE RESIDENTIAL HOMES SCANDAL
Reclaim Social Care was established in response to the crisis in the Social Care Sector. Over the last decade Disabled people’s ability to exercise self-determination has been undermined by the closure of the Independent Living Fund, privatisation and marketisation of so called ‘Social Care’, and the tightening criteria for support. Both the crisis within Social Care provision and the present dangers around the Covid-19 pandemic have combined to place Disabled people of all ages, support workers and personal assistants in vulnerable situations.
Sandra Daniels, vice chairperson of Reclaim Social Care, said: “We are living in difficult and dangerous times where so much remains unknown. NHS and Social Care staff are on the frontline and are being put at risk due to government policies, lack of testing, inadequate resources, and staffing levels.”
Service users inside residential settings are being put at risk because staff are not being protected or supported. One reason for this may be that many residential homes are run by the private and voluntary sectors and are therefore unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps. We believe that until Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, announced new measures on the 15th of April, the national government were failing Disabled people of all ages, support workers and personal assistants irrespective of whether or not they are living or working in the community or within local authority or private facilities.
The government belatedly acknowledged that support workers and personal assistants often work in close proximity to Disabled people and therefore the guidelines around social distancing are generally pretty meaningless. Disabled people are at higher risk of contracting coronavirus because of “barriers accessing preventive information and hygiene, reliance on physical contact with the environment or support persons, as well as respiratory conditions caused by certain impairments”, according to the International Disability Alliance (IDA). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that “…. governments should address the situation of detained people in their crisis planning to protect detainees, staff, visitors and of course wider society."
What is slowly emerging is the high incidence of Covid-19 and rate of deaths within residential homes that are not being reported or recorded as part of the pandemic. Although there are many reasons for this, we believe some of the underreporting is due to unacceptable attitudes towards the residents and the staff, many of whom are low-paid women workers. The word expendable means 'of relatively little significance, and therefore able to be abandoned or destroyed’; it is vital no one should be treated as if they were expendable. Reclaim Social Care believes the lives of disabled people of all ages are devalued and the lives of women are undervalued. During this COVID-19 crisis, everyone is at risk, but many are made vulnerable by the sheer neglect of the social support system. The evidence over the last few weeks has shown that our government planned inadequately and not taken appropriate measures to protect people. It was only under exerted pressure that guidelines for care homes were belatedly released. This is only the tip of a scandalous iceberg, however. The latest measures are to be welcomed, but once again, we fear it is too little too late.
It is important to ensure the government follow through on their promises regarding the safety of staff and service users and that they are also held to account. In addition, this pandemic further strengthens the argument for a new tax funded national co-ordinated service that is free at the point of delivery.
Reclaim Social Care is a non-party political, coalition of individuals and organisations campaigning for all social support, Independent Living, and other care services to be brought together as a national service. This service would be publicly and democratically run through community-based involvement of service users, Disabled people’s organisations along with carers, in conjunction with the NHS and local authorities, to design and deliver co-produced provision.