Care England, Britain’s largest representative body for care homes, reckons that by the end of April 7,500 residents may have died of the virus. But only those who die in hospital after testing positive are included in the statistics. Elderly sufferers, unseen, disregarded, have gone uncounted. Average life expectancy in nursing homes is only two years anyway, but that’s no excuse for shrugging our shoulders. In a civilised society, defending the most vulnerable is an overriding moral duty.
The disease spread “like wildfire” among the 400,000 residents of Britain’s care homes. In one Staffordshire nursing home, 24 died during a three-week outbreak of Covid-19. And a care home in Peterborough lost six residents – a third of its total – in ten days.
And the people looking after them get “far less protection and guidance” than those in the NHS.. Carers are “the forgotten front line”. Yet as we see, their work is just as important. The “unglamorous” tasks they undertake include washing, feeding, dressing and medicating residents, many of whom have dementia. And then there’s the emotional support that they provide. It’s work that requires “compassion and intelligence”.
The million people who work in the sector are horribly underpaid. Half earn less than the real living wage – and they’re four times more likely than others to be on zero-hours contracts. Their plight is an index of the Government’s failure over the years to pay anything more than lip service to addressing social care. The UK’s 11,300 care homes – most of them small businesses reliant on funding from residents’ fees and councils – have long had to endure “endemic” staff shortages and budget shortfalls. No wonder they were so acutely underprepared for this crisis.
And the Government’s new immigration rules will make things worse. A fifth of carers are migrants. But while foreign doctors and nurses working here are to have automatic visa extensions, carers have to pay to apply for theirs. Nor will we be able to replenish the supply of carers from abroad, as they don’t earn enough to qualify for a work permit and will be classified as “unskilled workers”. The people who keep our social care system afloat, “just as heroic as NHS staff”, are being treated as second-class citizens. It will take more than a shiny badge to fix this injustice. (The Week, 25 April 2020).
My comment: the reality (and I hope I am wrong!) is that in the U.K. and the US the elderly are regarded as an expense item in the national budgets – fewer oldies, lower taxes? To compound this, there are sections of the community in both countries who resent, disregard or despise immigrants. And yet, one day the types who feel that way may be cared for by underpaid immigrants. Hah!