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Disability services must be addressed in European response to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

On the 12th November the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) brought together social service providers in the field of disability and the Head of Cabinet for Dubravka Suica, Vice President of the European Commission, to the launch its Second Snapshot Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Disability Services. The event provided the opportunity for participants to engage in how the European Union can support disability services during the second wave of the pandemic. With these services continuing to deliver essential support to those who need it, the EU must recognise the essential role of social services and work with Member States to ensure that the immediate and long-term funding needs of the sector are met.
 
Following the first wave of the Coronavirus outbreak, social care and support services proved their flexibility and resourcefulness, quickly adapting to safely deliver support, both through digital means and continued face-to-face services. The pandemic has not been without its consequences however and the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns have impacted social services across Europe. The second wave of the virus has intensified the current challenges the sector faces, raising concerns for the future of these services and the human rights of persons with disabilities.
 
For EASPD’s latest webinar Mr Scicluna, Head of Cabinet for Dubravka Suica, Vice President of the European Commission joined social services for persons with disabilities to address the impact of COVID-19 on these services as well as discuss how the European Union can support the sector at this time.
 
Social service providers working in the field of Employment, Education, Early Childhood Intervention, Arts and Culture and Independent living asserted the needed for Member States to continue to uphold the human rights of persons with disabilities and provide vital support to them and their families during the pandemic.
 
“During the first wave of the crisis, many services were forced to shutdown, but persons with disabilities were still in need of support, not only to enable to continue their usually daily life, but also to cope with the crisis” Kathrin Völker, BAG WfbM (Germany) emphasised. Support services, including those in the field of employment, must now remain open and be enabled to so with the appropriate access to the resources they need. This includes access continued to personal protective equipment, funding and investment in the workforce to overcome staff shortages that have occurred as a result of the virus.
 
Looking to the education sector, Annemie Jennes, Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen (Belgium), stressed  keeping schools open during the second wave as a priority , highlighting their importance for the social and personal development of children as well as academic attainment. “Studies have already shown that the first lockdown has left children with a 6-month learning delay in their learning path. This cannot be repeated, or we risk failing a generation of children.” Ensuring that support services are allowed back into mainstream education is key to enable teachers and learners to end the development gap created by the closure of schools.
 
In the first lockdown support services faced the difficult task of balancing the health and safety of users, while also enabling them to have a voice and control over the support that they received. The pandemic has shone a light on some of the consequences of institutional settings, with higher rates of infection and social isolation being experienced in large institutions. Speaking during the webinar, Pep Solé, Support (Spain), called for more to be done to facilitate the deinstitutionalisation process: “As we rebuild from the virus, we have to ask for new flexibility from public authorities and work to transform long-term care settings into community based and personalized support.”
 
The experiences that were shared during the webinar reaffirmed the key findings of EASPD’s Second Snapshot Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Disability Services. The report is based on data collected from EASPD Members in October 2020 and highlights the sustainability of funding and increasing staff shortages as two crucial issues for social services across Europe.  These challenges are not new to the sector but have remained and become more pressing as the first, and then second wave, of the virus has hit Europe.
 
Despite working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, the essential role of support services has often been overlooked by policymakers and they have been left without the support they need. The European Union and its Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) was crucial in helping Member States to respond to the virus however social services have been largely unable to access the resources the initiative provided.
“The European Union must act now if social services are to continue to provide high-quality support to persons with disabilities and their wider communities” stressed Luk Zelderloo, EASPD Secretary General. “The CRII failed to reach its potential in meeting the funding needs of the sector, moving forward the same mistakes cannot be made and the new Recovery and Resilience Facility must earmark investment in the social field to ensure the continued provision of support to those who need it most.”
 
EASPD will continue to work with its members, partners and the European institutions to ensure that social care and support providers can continue to deliver high-quality support that empowers persons with disabilities to have equal access to their human rights.

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Note to editors

The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.
 

For more information please contact:

Rachel Vaughan
EASPD Operations Manager
+32 2 233  77 20
Rachel.Vaughan@easpd.eu
www.easpd.eu