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Disabled pay for their carers’ virus masks

Workers looking after vulnerable are forced to dip into clients’ savings during Covid-19 crisis

03 April, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Cllr Janet Burgess and last week’s Tribune story

SEVERELY disabled people have resorted to spending their own savings on protective equipment for the carers trying keep them alive on a hidden frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Tribune previously reported, employees of private care companies are facing a huge shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and goggles, which last month meant a 97-year-old with coronavirus was abandoned in her room for days because her carers were too afraid to be close to her.

Self-employed carers and those paid through the council’s direct payments system also say they have been offered no support or protective equipment, despite caring for some of the borough’s most vulnerable people.

Two carers, who spoke to the Tribune on condition of anonymity, said their clients have been forced to spend hundreds of pounds of their own money buying what is needed to safely care for them.

“With the outbreak, the stress has gone up massively. I can’t even describe it, but would say it’s at least doubled or tripled,” a self-employed carer told the Tribune.

“Sometimes I come home and I just feel so burned out. I feel like I can’t go into work again after just one week.

“At the back of my mind I’m always thinking about my client’s health, even when I’m not with them. It never stops.”

She added: “The level and quality of care we can give has decreased.

“It’s difficult to do certain things because we’re trying to keep a couple of metres between us at all times. That has a big impact on the health and mental health of the client, but we can’t do anything about it. There’s no break for us. We have to keep going. When I come home I’m just exhausted. It doesn’t feel like there’s any support for carers, so we have to support ourselves.”

Last week’s Tribune story

As a non-EU citizen, the carer also described the added financial stress of dropping other clients to concentrate on the most vulnerable.

“I’m researching what I’m entitled to,” she said.

“But my self-employed visa expires in six weeks, so I’m scared to apply for Universal Credit in case it impacts the way the Home Office look at my visa application. I will definitely have money problems soon, for sure.”

Another carer said she was paid through the council’s direct payments scheme (DPS), but had received next to no advice.

Her severely disabled client has also paid for PPE gear, and the carer said she found it “incredible” that the local authority was not being more proactive in reassuring and supporting the most vulnerable people.

“All the protection, and everything we are now doing with the client is from our own research and initiative,” she said.

“I think it’s incredible that it was just left to us to sort out our client’s PPE and come up with our own plan to help them. I think someone should be checking on carers employed through DPS. Someone should be checking that the clients and their carers are coping. It should be happening but it’s not.”

Unions have urged carers to call a new government hotline set up to ensure PPE reaches care workers who need it, but it was unclear whether this would apply to those who are self-employed.

Council leader Richard Watts said last week vulnerable residents were the council’s “top priority”, adding: “There’s a massive lack of PPE equipment in the social care system. Promises have been made and we’ve seen very little of that.

“We’re having to scrabble around to ensure our own social carers and social care staff have the protection that they absolutely need.”

Cllr Janet Burgess, Executive Member for Health and Social Care, told the Tribune last night (Thursday): “The government’s total failure to quickly secure enough PPE for the nation and get it distributed to the people who badly need it is a damning indictment.

“It is disgraceful that carers on the frontline have been left exposed and having to scramble for whatever protection equipment they can find.

“We are finally starting to see supplies filter through now, and are working hard to provide this vital equipment to those who need it as quickly as possible – including self-employed carers and people who pay for their own care directly. It is essential that we do all we can to help our most vulnerable people in times of crisis, and that includes supporting those who they rely on to provide their care.

“So a fortnight ago we wrote to all Direct Payment users advising them who to contact in an emergency and outlining our plans to provide PPE to them, which we are now doing.

“Our Direct Payments team have also made welfare calls to all recipients on the scheme who use carers, including agency staff, and ensured that all carers are entitled to key worker parking permits.

“In addition, to help reassure carers who cannot see their clients because they are having to self-isolate, or are isolating with their family, we will be paying their wages for March and April as well.

“We will continue to strive to provide support, guidance and information to everyone involved.”

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