Day-to-day developments across Europe show that many policymakers, including the European Union, are insufficiently prioritizing the impact of COVID-19 on the millions of persons with support needs and vulnerable people across the continent. Whilst the European Union’s response has been quite active on issues linked to health, the interests of businesses and on jobs, it has been invisible in securing the social rights of persons with support needs. EASPD strongly urges the European Union to develop a coordinated response to counter the social impact of the COVID-19, with a dedicated focus on the care and support needs of persons with disabilities, older persons, children, homeless people and other persons with support needs and their families.
Social care and support providers -and their 11 million workers- are taking significant measures to ensure that they are able to continue to provide the most fundamental of care and support for the millions of persons with significant support needs who rely on such services; including many persons with disabilities, older persons, homeless persons and others. These social service providers have rapidly adapted their services to the current situation in the best possible way – prioritizing services, rapidly shifting to online tools and ensuring face-to-face support in the most complex situations.
Yet, every day, as the pandemic progresses, EASPD has been informed that 1,000s of services have closed or are at risk of closing, due to a lack of consideration given to social care under this crisis by too many public authorities, who have – in many cases – stopped or not guaranteed future funding, putting at risk not only the jobs of the care professionals but also the well-being of the service users (persons with disabilities, older persons, homeless persons, etc). Other significant challenges include not providing the right attention to issues of health and safety of social care professionals who are asked to work in unsafe conditions (for themselves and the service users) due to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). There are also many cases of public authorities acting too slowly to respond to the developments by social service providers, who have had to change their services to respond to these conditions (for instance, through telecare, online therapies, food distribution), yet who are not funded for such actions.
If continued, the consequences of such inaction by public authorities will be drastic, with 100,000s of people without the care they require, placing even more pressure on family carers and on the healthcare (and other public services) systems. It will also lead to 100.000s of job losses of highly skilled care workers at a time when they are most needed. It can even lead to death, as was the case in Spain recently with several older persons found dead in their care homes due to ill-functioning service provision.
Following these developments, Ms Kirsi Konola, Vice President EASPD, states “Policy-makers need to pay special attention to diminishing the social damage to vulnerable persons caused by the coronavirus. Social services need targeted public support to ensure we can cover the basic needs of our service users. We need guaranteed funding to pay our staff. We need the equipment to ensure we can work safely. Too often, this is all missing! Where is Europe on the social aspects of the coronavirus crisis?”
Mr Jim Crowe, President EASPD, argues that “the European Union needs to take concrete action to ensure that basic social rights are met, with particular emphasis on those most vulnerable. Right now, all we hear is support for businesses and jobs. As important as this is, where is Europe on the social aspects of the COVID-19 crisis? We need a European coordinated response to counter the social rights impact of the coronavirus, not just the economic!”.
EASPD strongly urges the European Commission to develop a European coordinated response to counter the social rights impact of the coronavirus. This would include a clear message that the European Union must take urgent action to ensure social care & support for those who need it and guarantee respect for those who provide care and support for them (both the professionals and the caregivers). In more practical terms, this means a clear recommendation that Member States take immediate action to ensure that social care and support providers are able to provide the fundamental social services required; through
- day-to-day engagement with social service providers to understand evolving needs and trends
- the guaranteed funding for social service providers; fitting their adapted models of service provision, including – of course – not-for-profit organisations;
- ensuring the sufficient staffing of services, with measures such as adapted salaries to value their expertise and commitment under difficult circumstances, facilitating recruitment procedures, identification of a pool of reserve care workers, from social work students and volunteers, etc
- pro-active measures to ensure that all care and support professionals working in face-to-face contact are equipped with the relevant PPE that can enable to work safely.
The European Commission must support this clear recommendation with supportive measures of its own, including ensuring that ESF is used and adapted to the current needs and working methods of social service providers, more solidarity between Member States to ensure that PPE are available to social care and support professionals where needed most and the creation of a European Emergency Knowledge Centre for Social Care and Support -together with relevant EU organisations- to ensure the exchange of information, expertise, and practices across Europe.
- EASPD and EAN open letter on Ensuring EU Response to COVID-19 tackles threat of social care emergency
- EASPD Priorities for EU Response to COVID-19 regarding threat to Social Service Provision
- Joining Forces! EASPD COVID-19 Support Space
- EASPD Webinar Recording: Ensuring staff continuity in social services during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Registrations for EASPD Webinar: Adapting services for persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic on 1st April
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.