Lockdown exit plans should put safety, fairness and human rights first
BASW and SWU respond to the Westminster Government’s announcement to ease some lockdown measures.
Social work and social workers, like the rest of society, are looking ahead to a way out of lockdown, a way that protects lives while providing clear guidance as to how to adapt to ‘the new normal’.
The Prime Minister’s Statement on 10th May 2020 and plan shared 11th May 2020 does not provide this.
The Prime Minister called for some workers to return to the workplace today (11th May 2020) – giving notice of less than twelve hours. However, there is no clear national guidance for employers or employees on safety in the workplace. The plan for England published today does not fill that requirement.
BASW Chair, Gerry Nosowska, states:
‘Political leaders serve us. We expect from our elected representatives:
- Involvement – discussions and decisions about return to work and the implications around travel etc – whether made by government or employers - have to involve workers affected by them
- Equality – any decisions about risk management must take into account the massive differences in risk that different people face, many of which are down to structural injustice
- Clarity – need to have a message that all can clearly understand so that we can act on it, that is evidence-informed, and needs to be clear communication between nations
The recent statements and documents do not do this. We will continue to challenge as necessary and work collaboratively where possible, to achieve clarity and a safe, evidence informed way out of this crisis across the UK’
Safety at work
We need more detail and clarity on how people will be protected when they return to work. More detail has been promised- but there has been confusion and vagueness in the most recent Prime Ministerial announcements.
Social workers need to know that they will be protected at work and able to continue to undertake their roles with the right equipment and guidance. The lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been an ongoing failure across care, health and other essential occupations, as has the difficulty of obtaining tests and the delays in receiving test results. No credible plan has been provided a timetable or a process of how these issues will be resolved.
John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union (SWU) said:
‘It very much appears that the Prime Minister has conceded to big business and panicked at public spending and got the solution very wrong, encouraging people back to work without proper guidance. This approach could lead to a second spike with frontline workers, particularly those in lower paid jobs, likely to pay the price with the virus. The Health and Safety at Work Act was a great achievement of our predecessors and is critical at the moment.’
Inequalities and people at highest risk
Individuals, families, and children that use social work services, including adult services, children’s services, and mental health services, especially in England, have seen safeguards removed, rights reduced and social justice eroded through the pressures of the pandemic. Confusion in the policies around exiting lockdown will seriously impede a potential return to their established rights.
Covid-19 has also exacerbated the pre-existing deep divides in our society – for example increasing numbers in food poverty and intensifying the negative impacts of poverty, poor housing and domestic abuse. There has been little mention of how these deep divides will be reduced in the future. A commitment to this should be integral part of the exit plan.
Maris Stratulis BASW England National Director added:
"The latest government announcement has created confusion and inconsistency across the UK.
"Members of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been over-represented among fatalities of both staff who play a vital role in the fight against Covid – 19 and the wider community. There is still no clear plan on how people who are at higher risk of Covid-19 will be protected through the measures announced.
"We also urgently need more clarity on regional hotspots across England in terms of how they will be monitored and changes reported, including a clearer understanding of the role of a public health directors at a local level to oversee this.
Since health is devolved, the prime minister only speaks for England. However, Covid-19 is no respecter of borders. There are now significant differences in communication and approach between the four countries of the United Kingdom which has caused ‘widespread concern’ , with nations also noting the ‘unequal impact the virus is having on these at higher risk’ such as those in care homes and ‘ increasing evidence on inequality linked to deprivation’.
The Government at Westminster needs to work hard to ensure a unified, carefully thought through and clear approach in the battle against Covid-19 including the exit from lockdown. It must be an approach which upholds safety, fairness and human rights for the whole of our society without exception.
Four nations of the United Kingdom
The ‘stay at home’ message has not changed for Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland apart from minor adjustments to lockdown rules.
This cautious approach is largely welcomed across the nations at BASW Cymru, SASW and BASW NI, who will see these restrictions in place for another three weeks.
Carolyn Ewart BASW NI National Director said:
“There has been widespread concern from across the political spectrum in NI following the PMs announcement yesterday of the easing of lockdown restrictions in England. The First and Deputy first Minister of NI, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill respectively, have announced the extension of the lockdown until the 28.5.20 and reemphasised “Stay at home, save the NHS, save lives” message.
“There is now grave concern about the response in the care home sector in NI where 232 of the total 515 deaths have occurred. Last week ONS reported that for the first time the number of deaths in care homes exceeded the deaths in hospital, with 71 and 39 respectively.
“There are calls for wide scale testing and contact tracing in the care home sector to bring the breakouts under control. BASW NI recognises that now is not the time to ease protections; our older people are the most at risk of death from this virus and therefore deserve every effort to be kept safe.”
Allison Hulmes, BASW Cymru National Director said:
“The ‘stay at home’ message in Wales has not changed in response to the Prime Ministers announcement yesterday. First Minister Mark Drakeford declared some small changes to the regulations in Wales on the 7th May with some garden centres being allowed to open if they can maintain the social distancing rules, and exercise is permitted twice day – although this must remain local. The First Minister is clear that schools in Wales will not return to normal on June 1st.
“We are acutely aware of the unequal impact the virus is having on the most vulnerable and marginalised citizens in Wales, with those stories coming through from our members. Safeguarding referrals have dropped, higher risk children are not attending school, unpaid carers are shouldering immense burden and we have not heard the direct voice of older people in care homes, where the virus is wreaking havoc.
“We need to hear directly from those most impacted by this pandemic and hope that an extended period of lockdown will take down further the R rate of the virus to levels that mitigate the worst effects of a second wave of the pandemic, saving lives and our vital health and social care infrastructure.”
Alistair Brown, SASW National Director added:
“SASW supports the current caution by Scottish Government in waiting to exit lockdown until COVID-19 replication or ‘R’ values (which remain higher than the rest of the UK) have reduced reliably.
“We know that Scotland’s population is concentrated around major cities, for example Leith in North East Edinburgh has the highest population density in Europe outside London’s Hackney with the vast majority of housing being old tenements. Urban population density aside, we also know there is increasing evidence on inequality linked to deprivation.
"The once great shipbuilding region of Inverclyde, west of Glasgow, now has the highest rate of COVID-19 related deaths per population also sits at the top of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivations (SMD). Heriot Watt University Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick is co-author of Hard Edges Scotland Summary report1 and reinforced in recent meetings with SASW the need for more campaigning and joint working on health inequalities between the social work, health and housing sectors. The report states “There is also a heavy excess burden of cost for the public sector associated with more extreme cases of SMD, especially for the NHS (given the comorbidity between substance dependency and poor physical and mental health), but also clearly for an array of other public services including criminal justice, social work and social security”.