The whole debate (transcript here) makes for interesting reading (There are an awful lot of pledges to change and reform social care ‘flying around’), but the most telling contribution came from Baroness Hollins, who sits as a cross-bencher, and is an expert on learning disability issues, from professional experience, and also as a parent.
Her contribution summed up the effect of the lockdown on people with learning disabilities, and is worth quoting in full:
Baroness Hollins, Crossbench, 3:16 pm, 23rd April 2020
“My Lords, the Covid-19 pandemic will be disproportionately felt by society’s most vulnerable people, including people living with learning disabilities. Care Act easements under the Coronavirus Act, which has been enacted by eight local authorities already, raise the bar for social care to the threshold of human rights violations. Despite government reassurances, people with learning disabilities are at real risk of seeing their care and support reduced or removed as the Care Act easements set a new high threshold for the provision of care.
For those with learning disabilities, Covid-19 has truly pulled the rug from beneath their feet. Visits are discouraged, employment and volunteering roles disrupted and day centres closed. These are not luxuries, they are essential components of keeping well in the community. For many of those with learning disabilities, this loss of routine, structure and meaningful human contact could be disastrous. For some, increased anxiety is leading to behavioural challenges that precipitate urgent hospital admissions under the Mental Health Act. Routine dental and other health appointments have stopped and people’s access to urgent treatment may even discriminate against them.
When the economy and people’s livelihoods were at risk, the Government announced unprecedented financial support. When more NHS capacity was needed, we built massive new hospitals across the country. But when vulnerable people saw their entire support network evaporate, the Government’s response was not to increase social care provision, but to watch it wither. I speak from personal experience and remind the House that I am a carer for my adult disabled son who is at home with me during lockdown. Three equally important areas—jobs, health, and supporting our most vulnerable people—have vastly different responses. This crisis adds urgent emphasis to the need for a properly funded national care service. I hope the Minister will say something positive about a future funding settlement. It is needed, and soon.
People with learning disabilities will need an increase in support to recover their confidence, meaningful occupation and friendships when lockdown ends. Can the Minister say what will be done to reverse the harm done by the loss of familiar support during this period, which for many will have been complicated further by other traumatic losses?
My noble friend Lady Masham spoke about the lack of recognition by the NHS of the respiratory risks faced by people with tetraplegia, like my youngest daughter. I share my noble friend’s and others’ concerns about difficulties recruiting to the care sector and our huge reliance on carers from eastern Europe, who are finding it more difficult to come here to work. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.”