With the outbreak of the COVID-19 the European Union has taken emergency measures to coordinate a common European response. The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) welcomes these initiatives, yet, is concerned about the lack of provisions for the social care and support sector. Many professionals are exposed on a daily basis to the COVID-19, but the funding continuity is making operating conditions challenging and is leading many day-care, residential, rehabilitation and other support centers to forced closure. As a consequence, millions of vulnerable persons with high support needs are being left without the support and therapy that they need, while social care and support staff are at increased risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods.
The pandemic spread of the COVID-19 has now become a daily reality in Europe, with countries struggling to put in place measures to stop the advancing of the virus in each and every sphere of our lives. While Member States address this emergency by restructuring their healthcare systems and reallocating resources, it is clear that the means put in place are not enough to fulfill all needs. The European Union has responded to the COVID-19 crises with a set of measures in the framework of a common European response and has started to provide resources that address medical needs, mobility issues and economic matters.
While EASPD praises the European Union for a fast reaction to the crisis, it is of outmost importance that the support services sector is not left alone.
From the onset of the crisis EASPD has reached out to local actors on the ground to take stock of their main challenges. Across the continent, like many other sectors, social service providers are taking incredible measures to effectively deal with prevention, support and containment, whilst also ensuring that crucial care and support is still provided to those with no alternative. Given the nature of social services to care for people that are vulnerable, this necessity is even more important to protect them and their support staff.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that such important, yet basic measures are insufficient. With the growing spread of the coronavirus, many services have been put on hold, leading to severe funding and staffing difficulties. It is only a matter of time before the challenges met by social service providers will become irreversible for many.
It is essential the European Union ensures that the social care and support services sector is given the needed focus to prevent the partial collapse of the system, putting at risk the fundamental rights and lives of millions of people most at risk from COVID-19, as well as the health, employment and work-life balance of millions of who will have to fill in the “care gap”.
As EASPD’s President, Jim Crowe, said, “the spread of COVID-19 will create major challenges for social service provision in several ways. The fact that many, if not all countries, require specific staffing levels in social care will create additional pressure on a sector that is already suffering from shortages of staff, and the supply of service provision will be reduced to the point that many services will simply not be able to run”.
Social services will keep their support systems open and available as they much as possible, as this is in their DNA; they are ready to adapt their functioning as needed, however, authorities at European and national level should provide them with guidance and support. Luk Zelderloo, Secretary General of EASPD, remarked that “Europe should be ready to act for all, leaving no sector behind. The EU should not get locked up in its 'economic discourse' and should speak loud on the social dimension of this crisis, being closer to the people in need, addressing the many long-term concerns for persons that are close to the poverty line and who serve the needs of individuals that depend on their care and support availability”.
As a major representatives of the social services sector across Europe, EASPD welcomes the recent Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative announcements, yet urges the European Commission to reach out to the social care and support services sector as a whole, ensuring millions of social care workers do not feel they are left alone, addressing their concerns and ultimately preventing that a health crisis transforms into a social emergency as well, with very harmful consequences for what constitutes the backbone of social protection systems for the most vulnerable persons in Europe.