Social Care Workforce

In the same way that those receiving social care have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown the staff that are on the front line, in care homes and through care at home, bear scars that will be long in healing.  Unlike their health colleagues, it took until the middle of May for routine testing of all care home staff to be established, by which point the death rate in care homes had passed 1600. There was a feeling that the initial messaging around protecting the NHS displayed a skewed priority towards a sector that should have been protecting the very residents under their watch. 

The financial model for the funding of much adult and older persons social care does not allow for anything other than statutory sick pay for staff absent from work so very real financial hardship resulted from a Covid diagnosis and the resulting length of time away from work.  Whilst welcome, the Social Care Support Fund that was put in place to alleviate this is still facing some implementation challenges, and delays that providers are experiencing in processing claims and receiving funds are putting real pressure on an already cash-strapped sector.  Yet again, unwieldy processes put businesses and livelihoods at risk.

Even concessions for NHS staff such as protected shopping hours and supermarket discounts were not accessible for social care staff.  Many in the sector work for agencies and make up a week’s employment across a variety of locations – such flexibility was curtailed to prevent virus spread.  Similarly, care at home workers were overnight pulled from their support roles where packages of care were stopped or significantly reduced, causing financial distress for many, including their employers, whose viability will be sorely tested in the coming weeks and months. 

The above are all practical, functional effects – the emotional and psychological damage is even more debilitating.  This was a sector that has felt blamed, that felt press coverage hailed heroes in the NHS but was ready to vilify them for any outbreaks and deaths.  Managers had to lead teams in the wake of the guidance that hospitals would not admit their residents..  Care workers that need to create a homely environment, had to fight back their fears of contamination and death to present a calm, reassuring and friendly face to residents struggling to comprehend why they had to isolate in rooms, not use communal spaces that were an important part of the rhythm of their life, and not see family and friends.

It should also be acknowledged that the longer term psychological damage experienced by social care staff, through grief, trauma and bereavement will need to be closely monitored, and support offered.

The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as part of the International Bill of Human Rights, protects the rights of all workers and promotes ‘just and favourable conditions’ an ‘adequate standard of living’ and ‘the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.’  Those on the front line of social care did not feel throughout that they were working within and to such standards, and we owe them both a debt of gratitude but also the diligence to do better by them.