Lockdown hit children, disabled and BAME people - Lords committee
Just one in 10 vulnerable children went to school during lockdown
Not enough support for prevention and early intervention services
Fight against health inequality should be Government priority
Good work and innovation “will be lost” without fundamental reform
In the first comprehensive analysis of how public services responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the House of Lords Public Services Committee says “fundamental weaknesses” must be addressed to make services resilient enough to withstand future crises.
Hundreds of thousands of "invisible" children are falling through gaps between social and education services across England, the committee has warned in a new report - A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19.
Disadvantaged and vulnerable children face more risk of abuse and dropping further behind due to COVID-19 school closures, the committee has said.
Just one in 10 children defined as vulnerable attended school or early years education during lockdown, the committee heard - their plight made worse by fewer home visits by social workers due to COVID-19.
The Troubled Families Programme and community services such as children’s centres and family hubs should be extended and expanded and schools should work more with mental health professionals, police liaison officers and youth workers to meet vulnerable children’s needs, the committee says.
Many public service providers and councils developed “remarkable innovations” to meet the COVID-19 challenge and decisions which before the pandemic took months were made in minutes. The inquiry heard from people who use public services every day, many of whom welcomed these developments.
But “without fundamental reform this good work will be lost”, the committee warns.
Peers want ministers - who chose not to appear before the committee’s inquiry - to:
- produce an action plan to ensure that vulnerable children do not suffer adverse long-term effects, ensuring that public services do not lose touch with children at risk and share information better to identify those who need help and protection;
- recognise the vital role of preventative public services in reducing deep and ongoing inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19;
- introduce a race equality strategy that would apply across public services to address health, care and educational inequalities;
- commit to interim funding to ensure that adult social care gets adequate support to protect older and working-age disabled people in any further wave of coronavirus and future pandemics;
- assess urgently changes to public service delivery during lockdown to embed innovations that worked well and ensure that positive changes are not lost;
- address fundamental weaknesses revealed by the pandemic to deliver lasting and transformative reform of public services.
“Government, local authorities and other public service providers are not working together effectively to protect vulnerable children.
“Before COVID-19 many vulnerable children couldn’t get the public services they needed. With most unable to attend school because of the lockdown they had little support and many more have become invisible after losing contact with public services during the pandemic.”
Many deaths from COVID-19 could have been avoided if preventative public health services had been better funded, the committee heard.
Death rates were highest in the most deprived communities where avoidable health conditions made people more vulnerable. Poor health is particularly prevalent among black and ethnic minority people living in poverty - almost one third of all hospital patients critically ill with COVID-19 were from BAME backgrounds despite making up just 13 per cent of the UK population.
Older and working-age disabled people with care needs suffered too, the committee found, with the need for adult social care reform “now more urgent than ever”.
The pandemic “accentuated systemic frailties” in the care sector while the overall public health response was at times “hampered by over-centralised, poorly coordinated and poorly communicated” Government policies when local providers “were often better equipped.”
Years of underfunding left local services ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic’s pressure on resources and the committee wants a “rethink” about how the Government funds and supports local services.
Baroness Armstrong added:
“There should be no return to the pre-COVID-19 status quo.
“The fight against health inequality should be a priority for the Government. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people suffered disproportionately due to health inequalities and unequal access to services.
“The Government's own pandemic planning identified that social care would need significant support during the outbreak of a disease like COVID-19, yet social care was the poor relation to the NHS when it came to funding during lockdown. Discharging people from hospital into care settings without testing and with inadequate PPE led to the tragic loss of thousands of older and disabled people.”