A new survey carried out during the pandemic by the Care and Support Alliance* (CSA) of over 4,000 people with social care needs has found that more than a quarter
(28%) said their health had deteriorated and 1 in 7 (14%) said they had needed hospital treatment at this time as a result of a lack of care.
The research also found that because of a lack of care during the health emergency:
• 1 in 3 (32%) had felt lonely
• More than 1 in 10 (12%) had been unable to get food or shopping
• More than 1 in 10 (11%) had been unable to work
• 1 in 10 said they were often worried about how to cope and stay safe
• Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) had missed medical appointments.
In addition, 1 in 3 (31%) of those who said they had difficulties carrying out day to day activities said they never got any help or assistance and 1 in 4 said they had asked the authorities for help during the pandemic but hadn’t received any.
17% of the unpaid carers who took part said that their health had deteriorated because of their caring responsibilities. Separate research from Carers UK has found that during the pandemic 4 in 5 unpaid carers (81%) were currently providing more care than before lockdown and most carers (64%) had been unable to take any breaks at all in the last six months.
The CSA says that the results of this survey show how a lack of social care undermines people’s health, displaces pressure onto the NHS and makes it difficult or impossible for older and disabled people and their unpaid carers to live fulfilling lives. This would be worrying at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic which has pressurised our medical services like never before and made care and support all the more vital for those in need of it.
Social care helps many different people in many different ways. For older people, it often provides them with support with washing, dressing and eating – commonly termed ‘personal care’. Conversely, for learning disabled people below the age of 65 social care’s remit typically focuses more on supporting and enabling them to live independently, take part in local activities and engage in education and employment. For unpaid carers, it is less challenging for them to carry out their responsibilities if good quality, reliable care services are also in place to back them up and if there are opportunities for them to take regular breaks, to recharge their batteries.
Although social care does different things for different groups it is a crucial ingredient in all these people’s lives, not just an optional extra that can be easily gone without. Yet even before the pandemic we know that at least 1.6 million older and disabled people were lacking the care they needed.
The Alliance is calling on the Prime Ministers to give social care parity of esteem with the NHS and to fulfil his promise to ‘fix social care’ by urgently bringing forward reforms and increasing funding to restore services, fill staffing gaps, improve the quality of care and enable many more people who need support to actually receive it.
The survey results are published in a new report ‘A Cry for Hope: why 2021 must be the year for social care reform’. Alliance Chairs who are also senior charity leaders: Caroline Abrahams at Age UK; Emily Holzhausen at Carers UK; and Jackie O’Sullivan at Mencap have reflected on the experiences of the different groups they represent during the pandemic to draw out lessons for the future.
Caroline Abrahams, Co-chair of the CSA and Charity Director at Age UK, said:
“Our new survey shows how a lack of social care during the pandemic has diminished the lives of many older and disabled people, and their unpaid carers, and put their health at risk. This has piled further pressure on the NHS when this was the last thing our over-stretched health services needed. As we start to imagine a world beyond COVID-19 it is vital that the Government extends its pandemic funding for care services and follows through on its pledge to bring forward reform proposals to fix social care, once and for all. This would give everyone involved in social care hope for the future, which is much needed given all the suffering and loss they have endured over the last year. It would also support an exhausted NHS to focus on recovery and on reducing the waiting lists that have ballooned during the last year.”
Sue Gallagher, 77, whose husband didn’t receive the care he needed and ended up being sectioned in hospital for 11 weeks, said:
“The lack of adequate social care support before the pandemic started was a real issue and because of a lack of care during the pandemic he spent much more time in hospital than should have been necessary. Families like mine continue to find things difficult. I’m worried about the lack of support for people’s conditions, as well as for their loved ones at home.”
Sue and Bernard’s story: At the end of 2019 Bernard Gallagher, aged 84 from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. His wife Sue, aged 77, was looking after him at home but needed some respite care. Bernard went to stay in a care home, but it was unsuitable, he ran away and after two days Sue had to bring him back home. Despite struggling to cope, over five months she received no help of social care. Sue asked for him to be assessed by their local doctor but was told they had sicker patients to look after.
From this point, Sue received no social care support at home, support that she believes could have helped them both and ultimately could have prevented Bernard from being sectioned for 11 weeks in hospital during the first lockdown in April, after he was eventually assessed by a new practice.
When asked as part of this research study ‘What does good care mean to you?’ respondents’ comments included:
“Better support for the person I care for would reduce my care and support needs, giving both of us better quality of life.”
“Having control over my life.”