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Social services proposals to reduce the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the most vulnerable

The Association of Social Services Directors in Spain launched this week 10 proposals to reduce the impact of the coronavirus crisis for the most vulnerable, older people and people with disabilities. The European Social Network believes that these proposals can be applicable in all European countries and agreed with the Directors Association to adapt and disseminate them through our Network of professionals across Europe.

Social services professionals, who provide support at home or in residential facilities to vulnerable population groups, are aware of the increased frailty faced by these populations due to social isolation measures and the closure of social and educational centres. Improving their situation requires the adoption of exceptional measures that complement those that are already in place and coordinated by national, regional and local authorities.

Provide additional funding for the social services network to cover the social needs of people in the most difficult socio-economic circumstances and people with greater care needs, particularly:

  • Increasing home care and services for older people and people in situations of dependency;
  • Reinforcing the workforce in basic social services and residential facilities for older people and adults with disabilities to cope with potential staff shortages and illness, or to support staff undertaking longer shifts;
  • Increasing the allowance of the minimum income scheme and aid for urgent need in anticipation of the significant increase in families who will require additional income for basic survival expenses, such as accommodation, food or hygiene;
  • Providing meals for children eligible for school meals, who will be affected by school closures.

The criteria for the distribution of these allowances should be agreed between administrations based on the “at risk of poverty” and “social exclusion” indicators in regions and localities.

Implement (exceptional) measures to speed up the approval and payment of minimum income and emergency allowances. This is particularly relevant for families in precarious economic situations who otherwise may not be able to feed their children. Competent authorities should prioritise families with a social priority assessment and those that may have been on the waiting list for one month or more. Local authorities should also accelerate administration procedures in the resolution of applications for emergency support.

Adapting and reinforcing home care services, specifically

  • Focusing on people with little family support and high dependency needs, for example provision and preparation of meals, dispensing medication, assistance with postural changes or personal hygiene needs;
  • Doing the shopping for older people or people with disabilities as to minimise their risk of getting infected or injuring themselves;
  • Increasing the supply of meals at home for older people affected by the closure of day care centres and social canteens;
  • Ensuring the safety of older people in their own homes, intensifying contact with them through the phone and telecare.

All these measures must be carried out guaranteeing the safety of home care workers to prevent the spread of the virus among older people and workers themselves. Health authorities must ensure the supply of protective gear, such as gowns, face protection and gloves to workers who provide home care services.

Ensure adequate support for children eligible for free school meals who are affected by school closures. This may include ensuring that school kitchens continue running so that parents can collect food and take it home, providing financial support for this purpose or vouchers to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Implement hospitalisation measures for residents in care homes. Based on successful experiences of health and social care integration implemented in care homes and hospitals, whenever possible the integrated provision of hospital-related care and social support in residential facilities would help relieve pressure in hospitals and reduce the risk of contagion in older people.

Deploy health workers in all types of social services facilities including those for people with physical or intellectual disabilities, children’s homes, homeless shelters and therapeutic communities. Public authorities should reinforce these facilities with healthcare workforce personnel and protective gear, as well as specific prevention and care guidelines for a crisis situation like this. Set up an isolation area for people who may present the disease symptoms, ensuring the care they require. This type of investment would ease the burden on the health system.

Provide care and support for homeless people. Reinforce street outreach services and shelters along the lines of other emergency situations like extreme cold weather ensuring that homeless people are provided with shelter, accommodation, food, clothing and hygiene support. This requires cooperation among national, regional and local social services.  

Maintain and adapt the activity of local social services centres. The network of Social Services Centres represents a widespread safety net across Europe, from small municipalities to neighbourhoods in large cities. That is why it is essential to maintain operations as an essential service, adapting their role according to the needs of the current situation. Therefore, their activity can be adjusted to essential duties, such as ensuring home food delivery, and implementing appointments online or by phone. Staff should be provided with the necessary protective gear to ensure their safety and the safety of people using the service.

Promote volunteering campaigns to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. Local authorities could promote, support and coordinate volunteering initiatives to support older people living alone, single parents with dependent children, families in financial difficulties and people in need of care and support. They should also promote partnerships between public, third sector and private social services centres to meet the needs that arise as the situation evolves.

Give social services staff the consideration of essential personnel at a similar level to healthcare staff. This will enable putting in place the necessary measures and providing social services and social care professionals with the protective gear to help them carrying out their duties.