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I want to pay tribute to our social care workers across the country—a workforce who day in, day out work hard to care for our loved ones who are vulnerable owing to age, illness or disability; and a workforce who are often among the lowest paid and in precarious zero-hours employment, yet whose skills, compassion and dedication make a daily difference between whether life is utterly intolerable or lived to the full.
Social care has suffered a decade of austerity and neglect by the Tories. We have known for many years that our population is ageing and that our social care system is inadequately funded and unsustainable, as demonstrated starkly in the 1 million people eligible for care who are currently not receiving any support, and in the £3.5 billion a year that is needed just to meet current needs.
The Government have repeatedly kicked the social care can down the road, and the consequences are now coming home to roost. Social care is on the frontline of the covid-19 pandemic, providing care for vulnerable people—many of whom will be in high-risk groups for the virus—and meeting additional needs as hospitals work to discharge people to free up bed space. Yet there has been a woeful lack of support and guidance for the social care sector in the context of the pandemic.
On Friday, more than 100 parliamentarians from several parties joined me in writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ask him to guarantee full pay for social careworkers who have to self-isolate because of covid-19. This commitment has already been made to NHS workers and contractors. It is vital for the protection of the vulnerable people who receive social care that staff who have direct contact with them, often providing intimate care, do not have to choose between the safety of those in their care and paying their own rent or feeding their family. Please could the Government make this commitment without further delay?
It seems hard to imagine that our current utterly broken social care system can cope in this current crisis, and the Government must, without further delay, deliver comprehensive reform. However, in the short term, emergency funding for social care to protect the workforce and those they care for is an absolutely vital part of minimising the impact and the devastation of this pandemic.