Crippen hears from Bob Williams-Findlay and Sandra Daniels about solidarity with our support workers and PAs

Sandra and Bob write:

What the Covid-19 pandemic has done, whether those in power wish to acknowledge it or not, is that it has laid bare the terrible conditions that many support workers and personal assistants must endure.

Bob W F article
social distancing @

It may appear strange to raise the issue of the working conditions of support workers and personal assistants at a moment when so many Disabled people are so troubled by what is happening and how it might impact upon them from a variety of perspectives, but we believe they are deeply interrelated.

Over the last decade or so Disabled people’s ability to exercise self-determination has been undermined by the closure of the Independent Living Fund, privatisation and marketisation of so called, ‘Social Care’, and the tightening criteria for support. Now is not the time or place to unpack all these issues however taken altogether they do help shape the current situation we find ourselves in.

Both the crisis within Social Care provision and the present dangers around the Covid-19 pandemic have combined to place Disabled people, support workers and personal assistants in vulnerable situations. For many Disabled people their very survival, let alone independence, is dependent upon the assistance available to them and over the last few weeks this has been put at risk by the government’s incompetence and woeful inaction.

At this moment in time our concern and solidarity must be given to Disabled people of all ages, support workers and personal assistants irrespective of whether or not they are living or working in the community or within local authority or private facilities.

Support workers often work in close proximity to Disabled people and therefore the guidelines around social distancing are generally pretty meaningless. Disabled people are at higher risk of contracting coronavirus because of “barriers accessing preventive information and hygiene, reliance on physical contact with the environment or support persons, as well as respiratory conditions caused by certain impairments”, according to the International Disability Alliance (IDA). Oliver Lewis wrote:

“By ‘institutional settings’ I include psychiatric hospitals, social care homes, elderly person’s homes, group homes and prisons. People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to infection in these facilities given the risk of contamination of many people living together in a congregated way.”

The evidence over the last few weeks has clearly shown that our government has failed to plan or taken appropriate measures to protect people. It was only under pressure that guidelines for care homes were belatedly released; this is only the tip of a scandalous iceberg, however. Two major areas of concern persist for frontline workers – the lack of testing for the Coronavirus and the issuing of personal protection equipment (PPE). People are outraged that there is a lack of testing and issuing of PPE for NHS staff, but support workers and personal assistants are also frontline staff.

There should be an outcry that support workers and personal assistants are being expected to work with hands tied behind their backs. As Lewis points out in his article, if the Coronavirus enters an institution it can run riot. What is also evident is that Disabled people at this present time are unlikely to be admitted to hospital unless it is deemed absolutely necessary; under these conditions support workers and personal assistants will be implicitly expected to offer ‘care’ without the necessary training or support.

Then there are the implications of the Coronavirus itself. Staff shortages and the lack of resources has been a common feature in many places over the last decade, but the Coronavirus has compounded this further. Staff are being pressured to work longer hours and do overtime; this includes foregoing rest days. If staff members are overworked, then health and safety issues are brought into play not just for them and those they support, but also their families.

Most support workers and personal assistants are low paid women workers and therefore the lockdown has asserted additional pressures on them. The well-being of support workers and personal assistants should be understood as being integral to our own. We should take their concerns onboard and look at ways of raising them alongside developing acts of solidarity.

These are frightening times and it’s too easy for people to get divided. There are three hashtags we believe Disabled people should be promoting right now:

#They Care, So Should We

#No One Expendable

#Valued Workers Deserve Better

Sandra Daniels and Bob Williams-Findlay

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A naked young man is sitting in a bath. A crutch is leaning up against it and pools of water cover the floor. Standing to one side is a support worker wearing rubber gloves, an apron and a face mask. The PA is holding an extending arm with a watering can on the end, hanging over the bath. Water is dripping from the can. In the PA’s other hand is a long stick with a sponge on it. At their feet is a piece of paper with ‘Outcome of having to provide own equipment’. The PA is saying: “This social distancing lark is proving quite difficult!”

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