Below is the text of the speech made by Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.
History will judge us by how we treat the most vulnerable and poorest in our society during this pandemic. Today, the Office for National Statistics revealed that the lowest paid people are disproportionately more likely to die from covid, and among them, careworkers are twice as likely to die, compared with NHS workers. We know that there have been at least 6,600 deaths in care homes since the start of this pandemic, and it has become clear that the social care sector has been something of an afterthought in the Government’s pandemic planning. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that there is an epidemic in care homes, and we must not forget the hundreds of thousands of people who receive care in their own homes, some of whom will have died from covid and will be lost in the community statistics. We are talking about individuals of all ages who may be frail, have complex conditions, and significant needs. We are talking about staff who are often forced to work on the national minimum wage, and with zero-hours contracts and only statutory sick pay.
On 11 March I asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care whether he would be issuing personal protective equipment to social care workers, he said
“we are taking that into account”.
Staggeringly, it took until 15 April and thousands of deaths before he announced a plan to tackle coronavirus in the social care sector, including measures for getting PPE to providers. In the meantime, councils and providers struggled every day to get hold of it. With domiciliary care staff visiting many different households in a day, and residential care staff often working in more than one setting, that delay in getting vital equipment to the frontline has undoubtedly cost lives. What assurances can the Minister provide that all social care providers now have access to the protective equipment they need to keep their staff and clients safe?
It is welcome that provision has been expanded to ensure that all those working and residing in care homes are able to access testing. On 23 March, I raised in the House the dangers of discharging patients from hospitals into care homes without testing, but policy change came far too late. The long delay in access to testing enabled the virus to enter care homes with a lethal impact, spreading like wildfire. It has been reported that some care staff do not wish to take a test because they are concerned about the financial impact of taking time off work. Statutory sick pay is simply not enough to survive on, and it must be addressed urgently.
We must not overlook the impact of the crisis on the wellbeing of care staff, many of whom are experiencing things they have never been trained for. Some fear that they are being blamed for the spread of the virus, and some that they may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at a later date. What measures will be available to support their mental health?
It is right that we champion the NHS and, in the words of the Chancellor, give it “whatever it needs” to cope with coronavirus, but we must do the same for social care. We know that the extra funds granted to local authorities do not go anywhere near far enough. For too long, social care has been a poor relation to the NHS, and reform has been kicked into the long grass time and again. This crisis has brought into sharp relief just how important social care is in enabling the NHS to function well. It has also brought into sharp relief the many problems facing the sector. The covid crisis will precipitate many long-term changes in policy, and first and foremost among the areas for change must be social care.