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Coronavirus Shows England’s Urgent Need for Social Care Reforms

Older People’s Right to Health Requires Full Access to a Robust Support System

Young male community healthcare worker being welcomed by a senior man at his home. © Dean Mitchell/Getty Images

COVID-19 is spreading around the globe and is especially deadly for older people. The virus has an estimated fatality rate of under two percent, but reaches eight to 15 percent among older people, new analysis shows. Older people can have lower immunities which increase their risk of infection.

This risk is particularly acute in settings with close quarters. In England, intensive care units are now routinely testing patients with breathing problems, recognizing the risks of infection in hospital. In the United States, a nursing facility in Washington State is at the center of an outbreak where eight people have died so far.

So social care, which provides individual support to people in their own homes, is more vital than ever right now. It could help keep older people out of hospitals and nursing facilities, and reduce their risk of catching, or unknowingly spreading, the Coronavirus.

Under the Care Act 2014 (which applies in England only and not in the rest of the United Kingdom), anyone who meets financial and needs criteria is entitled to government-supported social care. Yet a 2019 a Human Rights Watch report found human rights issues in England’s social care program, notably that inadequate social care assessments leave some older people at risk of not getting the help they need to lead independent, dignified lives. This means that the government risks failing to secure older people’s rights to health, and to live in the community. And with the looming threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in the UK, this risk is particularly acute. 

The UK government promised in its December 2019 legislative agenda to “bring forward proposals” to reform adult social care in England. This has been in the works for years and is long overdue, with its failure to reform social care having been described as “one of the longest losing streaks in public policy history.”

At a time when the world faces a possible pandemic that particularly threatens older people, older people deserve a social care system that protects their connection to their community and their right to health. The government in London should not delay its reforms a moment longer.

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