06 September 2020, The Tablet

Calls grow for reform of care home system

Calls grow for reform of care home system

Labour leader Keir Starmer confronts Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions last week.
House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

The Tablet has joined its voice to increasing calls for radical reform of the care home system, saying in its editorial this week: “The rate of deaths in the care home sector is a scandal that demands a reckoning.” It cites Pope Francis's recent declaration that society must eradicate not only the coronavirus but the “great virus” of “social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation and the lack of protection of the weakest”.

The paper applies these criteria particularly to the UK residential care system, where, as the devastating epidemic took hold, they have emerged as among the “weakest” who are most in need of “protection”. The most recent of many calls for radical reform, including a change in the way the sector is funded, comes from the Social Care Institute for Excellence, which this week demanded a shift “from workforce low pay, low recognition and poor conditions, towards higher pay, better conditions, progression and development – and parity of esteem with the NHS.”

The sector, says The Tablet, “has suffered both from market failure – an undue reliance on competition and chronic downwards pressure on the pay and conditions of its workforce – and from austerity, especially the savage reductions in local authority funding.”  

The Tablet explores the way in which the Pope's current series of general audiences addresses are updating the application of Catholic Social Teaching to modern conditions. The Pope's reference to “inequality of opportunity”, as part of the “great virus” of social injustice, could be applied to the way Black pupils in particular, according to the evidence, have been disproportionately set back by school closures over the last six months. Therefore substantial fresh resources need to be channelled into schools in the most deprived areas of British society, says The Tablet, “if the setbacks they have suffered are not to leave a permanent mark.”

The Pope's emphasis on social justice and deprivation draws The Tablet's attention to the end of the government’s furlough scheme, “which sustained people’s income while they were off work, will plunge literally millions into unemployment, insecurity and debt, and many thousands into homelessness and raw poverty. So will the resumption of evictions for arrears in rent and mortgages. Family life for many will be devastated.”

The situation is only made worse by the incompetence of Boris Johnson's Government, illustrated by a series of U-turns on public policy, which have alarmed Tory MPs and even ministers. The editorial admits that no government in the world could expect to sail through such a time of trial unscathed. “But the government of Boris Johnson has not distinguished itself even in such fallible company.”

According to a series of international statistical measures – number of cases and number of deaths in proportion to the population, the extent of economic damage and the poor rate of recovery – Britain is at or near the top. “An averagely competent government would expect to be towards the middle of such lists, not heading them,” The Tablet declares.

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