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The Double Slap in Cuts to Social Care: expert comments on new Human Rights Watch report

Following a new Human Rights Watch report on older people’s social care needs, Professor Kimberley Brownlee from the Department of Philosophy has argued that current social care service provision is a slap to both service users and support workers.

Professor Brownlee says: “A new Human Rights Watch Report, ‘Unmet Needs’, details failures in England’s provision of social care services to older people. It notes that the national government funding given to local authorities for social care services has halved since 2010, and many people have either been denied crucial services or seen their services significantly reduced. In one case, Mary Redman, a long-time service user, told Human Rights Watch that the social workers who came to her home in 2016 to re-assess her needs had decided beforehand to reduce her support. As a consequence, her personal assistant of 30 years, who had become a most treasured friend, was forced to find work elsewhere, disrupting their longstanding bond.

“Social care serves a dual purpose. It not only helps a person to manage her daily life – getting dressed, cooking, cleaning, and shopping – but also is a vital source of social connection. And, crucially, it’s a source of social connection not just for her, but also for her support worker. This is because our social bonds are reciprocal. They are joint narratives that we develop with each other over time. Through them, we become witnesses to each other’s lives and friends invested in each other’s happiness. Social care services offer a way for both service users and support workers to feel useful. And, as economist and happiness-czar Lord Richard Layard notes, a key piece in overcoming loneliness is feeling useful to someone else. When governments cut social care services, or fail at the national level to oversee local provision (no central agency monitors how local authorities assess people’s needs), they slap both service users and support workers.

“We have no human right to be provided with a treasured friend. Guaranteeing such a good to every person would be impossible and would go far beyond the brute moral minimum that human rights are built to secure. However, we do have a right not to have our bonds forcibly severed or arbitrarily disrupted once they’re established. Given that the UK Government is pioneering cross-government work to combat loneliness, and has concrete commitments under the Care Act (2014) and the Human Rights Act, the left hand needs to look at what the right hand is doing to ensure that people’s basic social rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.”


Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics)


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