A “considerable proportion” of people in Scotland who receive social care support at home have had that support cut or removed completely during the pandemic, according to a new report by the country’s human rights watchdog.
This week’s report by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) – which has been welcomed by disabled people’s organisations – warns that the impact of the cuts to people’s support has potentially led to breaches of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The commission said it was “deeply concerned” about the future, post-pandemic levels of support that will be available to those who have had their packages cut or withdrawn during the crisis.
But it also warned that the pandemic has “exacerbated pre-existing inadequacies” of the social care system in Scotland.
The report found that some disabled people have been left without the support they need to get up and go to bed, wash and use the toilet, eat and drink, and take medication.
One user-led organisation told the commission it had heard of many people left in “dire situations”, including “being forced to sleep in wheelchairs, unable to get out of bed, unable to wash and dress themselves… [and] having to move in with family”.
Among its recommendations, the commission called on the Scottish government and local authorities to pledge a return to pre-pandemic levels of support.
It also called on the Scottish government to assess how widespread the cuts have been.
And it repeated its call for UNCRPD to be incorporated into Scottish law, and for a future social care system that will be based on human rights.
The report concludes: “Short and longer term change is needed to address the significant human rights concerns we have identified, and to ensure the level of decline in the realisation of people’s rights that has taken place never happens again.”
Dr Pauline Nolan, head of leadership and civic participation for Inclusion Scotland, who contributed to the report, welcomed the document and said it was an “accurate report of what has been happening across Scotland”.
She said many disabled people had had their support “stopped almost overnight” and there had been “some real horror stories”.
A series of Inclusion Scotland surveys during the pandemic had shown that people’s mental and physical health had suffered because of the loss or reduction of support, she said.
One survey of 115 disabled people and carers in August showed four out of five (79 per cent) had lost some or all of their care package during the pandemic.
Nolan said: “It’s quite shocking.
“People are scared that, because they have been told they have to rely on so little and they are surviving – barely, in some cases – they are then going to be reassessed and told, ‘You’ve managed for the last few months so you can manage on this amount now.’”
She said it was vital that care packages were returned to their pre-pandemic levels, while Inclusion Scotland also supported the call for UNCRPD to be incorporated into Scottish law.
She said: “Social care has been in crisis in Scotland for a long time. It has collapsed in the face of the pandemic.
“We have been working with the Scottish government to reform it over the last two years.
“The pandemic has shone a light on how bad it is.”
She added: “Social care is one of the things that has left people feeling abandoned.”
Nolan said the only part of the system that seemed to have survived intact was the Scottish version of the Independent Living Fund.
Etienne d’Aboville, chief executive of Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, also welcomed the report.
He said: “We would echo the calls in the SHRC report for a more robust, rights-based approach founded on UNCRPD principles.”
He said it was important that disabled people had their care packages reinstated after the pandemic.
D’Aboville said: “Whether people’s services were simply cut, or whether they chose to rely on informal support for safety reasons, simply managing to get by during lockdown should not be taken as evidence that this is sustainable in the longer term.
“Our own experience as a support organisation suggests that those who have had more direct control over their budget, either via a direct payment, or through the ILF Scotland, may have fared slightly better than others.”
He added: “We look forward to a positive outcome from the policy work that is currently taking place on the reform of adult social care support in Scotland: it’s vital that this recognises that investing in social care support has economic benefits for disabled people, for unpaid carers, for employment, and for society as a whole, as well as advancing social justice.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult for both those receiving and providing adult social care.
“It is critical that social care support is maintained as far as possible to ensure the safety, dignity and human rights of people who already receive support, and that of their unpaid carers.
“We’ve allocated £150 million for social care as part of our additional COVID funding this year to help the sector mitigate the financial implications of the pandemic.
“Unavoidable short term changes in people’s support have been necessary due to a reduction in workforce capacity as a result of workers self-isolating or being unwell, or many group-based supports running at reduced capacity due to physical distancing measures.
“In some instances, the support needs may also have changed and required review or amendment.
“The Scottish government has established an independent review of adult social care with a human-rights based approach to consider what changes are required to achieve the highest standards of support for the independence and wellbeing of people who use adult social care support.
“We remain committed to the reform of adult social care. Prior to the pandemic we began work on a reform programme with a wide range of partners including people who use social care support, COSLA [which represents Scottish local authorities], unpaid carers, the social care sector and others.
“This work will continue in parallel to the Independent Review of Adult Social Care [which was announced on 1 September and is due to report by January 2021].”
Cllr Stuart Currie, health and social care spokesperson for COSLA, welcomed the report.
He said: “When the pandemic hit, local government worked with partners in the third and independent sector to try to ensure that social care support continued to be provided for those who needed it most.
“However, some people were impacted because social care support could not be delivered in the same way or because that person no longer wanted that support.
“It is critical that where this has happened it is reviewed, and this work is underway in Health and Social Care Partnerships.
“COSLA agree that human rights should be enshrined in social care and this must be central to any reform or review of social care; this report sets out helpful recommendations to support this approach.”
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