Written by Tony Flower
An ITV News report on a Mencap survey of carers across the UK has revealed that 69% of people with a learning disability have experienced cuts to their social care during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many trapped in lockdown. A majority said that there was no choice but to increase personal support as needs grew and that cuts to services have had significant negative impacts on people with learning disabilities and their families.
Many cited deteriorating mental and physical health, interruption to relationships, and loss of independence as major factors in their loved ones’ wellbeing, as well as their own as they took on more responsibilities. The closure of day services and cuts to respite hours have led to obligations falling on family carers 24/7, with several struggling to cope.
Even prior to coronavirus, figures from Freedom of Information Requests to Local Authorities indicate that around one in twenty of those with a learning disability who receive social care had the hours in their support packages reduced in 2018/19, according to extrapolated estimates by Mencap.
Edel Harris, the Chief Executive of Mencap said:
“Social care has had decades of under-investment, and we have been warning about the system being at breaking point for years – but here are clear signs that the system has broken and people with a learning disability and their families are paying the price. Mencap will not stand by and allow this to happen.”
According to a Lords Economic Affairs Committee report, an £8 billion investment in social care in England is required to restore quality and access to where it was a decade ago; whilst the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adults Social Services say that local councils can expect at least a £6.6 billion increase in social care costs due to coronavirus.
72% of family carers surveyed fear that there will be more cuts to care packages in the future, as local councils struggle to make ends meet as lockdown eases, with some reports of day centres already forced to close for good.
The Government Department of Health and Social Care said:
“We are committed to supporting those with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs, as well as those that care for them, and their interests will remain a priority throughout our recovery from the current healthcare emergency. We recognise the significant challenges facing the social care sector and have made £3.7 billion available to local authorities so they can address pressures on local services caused by the pandemic, including adult social care.”
Whatever the figures, the fact remains that local councils are struggling to fund the necessary services due to a decade of cuts by the central government, exacerbated by the current health crisis. A significant contribution to local government income has also been wiped out because of business rates and parking charge holidays during the height of the pandemic.
There may be no easy financial solutions, but surely as a society, we should respect and prioritise the needs of our disabled community. There are real people with real problems at the end of each balance sheet and they have a right to our support.