UK: Kent Law School research initiates COVID-19 recommendations to Government

The research shows severe breaches in Health and Safety regulations for care workers reports the university

Kent Law School[1] has reported on research with UNISON in the North West of England and findings from a survey of 2,600 care workers employed in over 1,000 different care-settings. It reveals widespread fear about the transmission of SAR-CoV-2 virus and serious breaches of legal safety standards[2]  A vast majority of care workers feel unprotected at work, they believe they will not be paid wages if they self-isolate and care workers are battling with the consequences of confusion at policy level about the use and availability of PPE.

The full report can be found here.

The research, funded by Wellcome Trust, connects law and guidance about health and safety with data on the reality in care home, home care and learning disability support services. There are evident gaps at policy level in knowledge about social care practice, potentially putting lives at risk. The researchers recommend urgent action by government at national and local level to appoint care workers to problem-solving roles so as to use their expertise in making decisions about the use and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the use of staff resources.

The research revealed that 8 in 10 care workers believe they would not be paid wages if they had to self-isolate. Fear of being in poverty means some are not self-isolating, causing virus transmission risks. The report calls on the UK Government to urgently intervene to ensure care workers are guaranteed normal wage incomes when in self isolation.

The report also identifies a large gap between the safety standards required in law and the lack of safe working practices reported by care workers, a lack of senior-level policy understanding about social care work, and care workers’ concerns suggest that disregard for regulatory standards has directly increased risks of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Findings in brief:

  1. A large majority of respondents believe too little is being done by employers to keep staff safe from the risks SARS-CoV-2 infection (69% of learning disability support workers, 60% of home care workers, 52% of residential care workers).
  1. A large majority of respondents believe too little is being done by employers to keep people using care and support safe (58% of learning disability support workers, 56% of homecare workers, 43% of residential care workers).
  1. 8 in 10 care workers believed that they would not be paid their wages as normal if they had to self-isolate (79% of homecare workers, 83% of residential care workers, and 67% of learning disability support workers). Indeed, 61% of homecare workers, 72% of residential care worker and 57% of learning disability support workers believe they would receive only SSP payments, notwithstanding their high occupational exposure to the risk of infection.
  1. Government guidance assumes PPE availability, but care workers state PPE is often unavailable or unsuitable. Evidence from care workers shows how lack of PPE is a safeguarding issue and their fears too about maintaining basic hygiene due to reported shortages of soap and hand sanitiser.
  1. Official guidance has said no PPE is needed in certain situations, but evidence from care workers suggests this has created confusion and they believe lack of PPE is putting them and others at risk. Official guidance is not addressing the specifics of potential virus transmission in residential and homecare settings.
  1. Care workers who are ill with COVID-19 are not all self-isolating. It appears that poverty, and fear of poverty, may be exacerbating the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in social care circles.
  1. Care workers believe that lack of attention to minimising the risk of infection in care and support settings has directly contributed to outbreaks of COVID-19 in social care-settings.
  1. Reports from care workers provide evidence that in some care-settings there have been few, if any, attempts to reduce risk of transmission and these risks are compounded by difficulties in achieving social distancing.
  1. Care workers are concerned that some measures implemented to deal with staff shortages may be accelerating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in social care.
  1. Care workers are concerned that their reliance of public transport is likely to be transmitting the virus between care-settings and the wider community.

Principal Investigator Professor Lydia Hayes said: ‘Urgent action is needed by government at national and local levels to prevent untold excess deaths of care workers and people in need of care and support. If we were to buy into the idea that this is a “war” on coronavirus, care workers and those for whom they provide care and support are being unlawfully set up to take a direct hit. Care workers are lauded as “heroes” while their rights to health, safety and the protection of their lives are not being prioritised. Our research details a widespread and systematic downplaying and disregard of the risks of infection in care-settings.  Care workers must be urgently appointed to decision-making roles at all levels of our social care system and they must be protected from poverty through the funding of full occupational sick pay so that they can self-isolate.’

Professor Lydia Hayes leads a research team at Kent Law School that is funded by Wellcome Trust to explore and compare how the regulation of social care in England, Scotland and Wales impacts and shapes care workers’ employment. She is author of the multi-award winning monograph Stories of Care: A Labour of Law. Gender and class at work (2017) Palgrave Macmillan.

[1] Research funded by Wellcome Trust: Social Care Regulation at Work in England, Scotland and Wales. Principal Investigator Professor LJB Hayes.

[2] Data collected in two weeks to 6th April 2020 in an online survey by UNISON North West. 2,600 respondents employed by more than 1,200 different social care providers. 100% completion rate.