Careworkers might not be the first people we think of when we picture our vital workers leading the fight against Coronavirus. But they are very much on the frontline looking after the most vulnerable and to do their job they have to be in close physical contact with those for whom they are caring and their co-workers.
There are 8 residential homes care in Camberwell and Peckham and I’ve contacted them telling them how much we value their work and offering to take up any of their concerns. I was dismayed to hear that staff feel that they don’t have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need to protect the elderly people they help, or keep themselves and their families safe, that there are shortages of staff as people have to self isolate and that the government is not properly focussed on them.
Even before the Coronavirus hit, years of government funding cuts, outsourcing and privatisation had already left the care sector and it’s staff at breaking point. But with this deadly virus we are now seeing the full tragedy of the cuts and neglect play out.
Carers are unappreciated and underpaid, often on zero hours contracts, without entitlement to holidays or sick pay. If they don’t go into work, they don’t get paid.
This does not help prevent the spread of the virus. One careworker told me she worries every day about whether it’s better for her to come into work fearing she could spread the virus to the vulnerable people she helps, or to stay at home, which would compromise safe staffing levels and the quality of care.
Carers tell me they are worried that because they do not come under NHS management they will be forgotten in the Government’s testing programme of critical healthcare staff.
A number of staff said they’d been turned away from supermarkets during the early access hours for health workers because their ID badges are not NHS, and by the time they finish their shifts the shelves are empty.
I’m pressing the Government to treat dedicated staff working in our already overstretched social care sector with the same priority as frontline staff in hospitals.
All care workers must urgently be given adequate and effective Personal Protective Equipment, be included in the testing programme and the Government must issue guidance to supermarkets to ensure they recognise and prioritise care home staff for online shops and designated early hours. Before Coronavirus struck there were already vacancies for social care workers. If we don’t protect carers, as they protect society's most vulnerable, we risk losing more of this vital workforce over the coming weeks, and potentially for good.