Matt Hancock, the man responsible for the health and care of the nation during the deadliest emergency for a century, finally gave his evidence to the COVID Inquiry this week. And it was just as grim as I’d expected.
He talked about social care like it was something he found down the back of his sofa, rather than a vital public service he was responsible for. At one point, he said: “We at the health department” – once again forgetting about social care.
He admitted he didn’t know how many care homes there were in the country when COVID hit, or how many care home residents lived in them. So how could he possibly have known where to throw that ‘protective ring’ he boasted about?
The care sector had been in crisis long before the pandemic – a crisis presided over by years of Tory mismanagement and failed political choices. This left the sector exposed to the ravages of the pandemic, right from the start.
Mr Hancock failed in his responsibility to provide enough PPE, testing and paid leave for care workers who needed to self-isolate. He was warned by UNISON, repeatedly, about the need for sick pay and yet he failed to act decisively.
When the government belatedly brought in an “infection control fund” to provide money for sick pay, UNISON care worker members told us the system didn’t work, with many still left without adequate pay.
It’s also telling how he relied so heavily on his lack of direct control over social care as an excuse for these failings, but when he saw the vaccination programme giving the Tories a boost in the polls, he had no problem introducing the ill-advised “mandatory vaccination” in care homes, which ironically undermined the roll-out.
He found the levers to make vaccination mandatory for care workers, but not sick pay.
Even now, when the time is right for self-reflection and taking responsibility, he is dodging it and passing the buck.
There are lessons to be learnt from the inquiry. A big one is about the urgent need to fix the social care crisis. A nationally integrated, fully funded system, delivered by empowered local councils, would have ensured a secretary of state for health and social care took responsibility for the whole job. It could have saved lives, and the UK could have avoided one of the worst death rates in Europe.
UNISON’s campaign for a National Care Service got a big boost from the Fabian Society report a few weeks ago and 16,000 people have already signed our recently launched petition. If Matt Hancock showed us this week how care was so easily forgotten by Tory ministers, you can show how important it is to you, by signing our petition today.