Councils and care bosses are trying to withdraw support for vulnerable people who have been asked to self-isolate.
It comes after the Coronavirus Act watered-down local authorities’ duty of care to adults and children. Those under threat include some of the 1.5 million older and ill people who’ve been instructed not to leave their house for the next 12 weeks.
Janet, who lives in Hackney in east London, relies on daily visits from care workers. She has terminal cancer and has recently been diagnosed with ataxia—a degenerative condition that affects people’s coordination and balance.
Janet told Socialist Worker she was “so shocked” when she got a phone call from care bosses on Tuesday. “They phoned up and asked me if I could manage on my own during the crisis,” she said.
“They didn’t ask me if I had family members or friends that could help.
“It didn’t hit me until afterwards, as far as they were aware, I would have been on my own for the next 12 weeks.”
Janet refused to give up her care and has kept it “for now at least”, but the company tried to argue her down. She explained, “When I said I couldn’t even prepare my own vegetables, she said, ‘Couldn’t you get ready meals?’.
“How am I supposed to stay in doors and stay healthy like that?
“There are things I cannot do, my family's scattered around the country and my friends are in the same position as me.”
They asked me if I could manage on my own during the crisis
Janet’s case makes a mockery of the Tories’ claim that councils, friendly neighbours and the internet would help the 1.5 million vulnerable with shopping.
A decade of budget cuts to local authority budgets and privatisation has hammered social care services.
That’s why the Tories’ coronavirus legislation brought in dangerous changes to the Care Act 2014. They mean that councils can ration care “even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments”.
Janet fears that she wouldn’t get the care package back after the coronavirus crisis. She said, “They should be expanding care right now because so many more people will need it, not trying to stop it.
“And afterwards, would you get the care back if you have had friends to look after you for 12 weeks?”
Health and social care services need a huge injection of cash so it’s possible to plan to meet everyone’s needs.
‘We are creating our own solutions’
Social workers in east London have managed to push back management’s attempts to carry on with “business as usual” in the coronavirus crisis.
Simon, who works in children’s services, told Socialist Worker that workers received conflicting messages about social distancing rules. “We had management saying it was business as usual,” he said.
“But we could pass on infection to vulnerable families.
“Then we had a boss email out saying home visits should still go ahead—I thought, ‘Are you not watching the updates?’
Although workers “felt unsupported from people at the top”, Simon said workers have collaborated to find the best way to deliver their key service.
“The only way we’re getting through it is speaking to each other and thinking of our own solutions,” he said.
So most social workers are conducting visits by video link and supporting families by providing them with educational resources and information on food banks.
The lockdown means that office-based services have been stripped to the bare minimum, with many workers supporting families from their own homes.
But Simon said measures could have been put in place much earlier to minimise the risk of infection transmission between workers and service users. Some of them suffer from asthma and diabetes.
“It could have been resolved by smarter working—there was a delay in guidance being given to workers.
“It took some time to set up video conferencing and information about collecting workers’ phone numbers.
“If there was a proper system, we would have known who was on duty and wouldn’t have felt like we had to go into the office.”
There’s has been at least one incident of a manager implying that a self-isolating worker would have to use annual leave. But they backed off after pressure from the local branch of the workers’ Unison union.