Victoria Borwick is the former Conservative MP for Kensington and was the Deputy Mayor of London to Boris Johnson from 2012 to 2015.
Over the past few months, we have had to learn a lot of new phrases: self-isolation, furlough, and shielding to name but a few.
Yet one of these, the new Government designation for “vulnerable”, has proved contentious, separating as it does those who can access additional help, quieter shopping times, and food or medicine deliveries from those who cannot.
I am calling on the Government to include in it carers and families with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and those with hidden disabilities. We have been promised parity for those with mental health conditions, but there is no evidence of this in the current Government list of those deemed “vulnerable”.
There are incidents up and down the country of employers demanding “the letter” which entitles you to additional shielding and assistance. The system should provide you with proof, drawn from all the data that the authorities hold for you – yet as you can see from the frantic calls to helplines and posts on social media, it is letting down those who need this help.
The current fallback position, “phone your GP”, assumes local doctors are not hard-pressed already. Nonetheless I followed this route, sent a message to our practice coordinator, and was delighted when one of the local GPs telephoned me a few days later. I asked about the letter for those that are deemed vulnerable – not because we needed shopping delivered, or any special treatment, but to understand the system better to support those contacting me for help.
The GP very openly explained that they are trawling through their records to write to those that they knew were vulnerable. Some are known and easy to spot as they already receive free flu vaccinations, but others had hidden disabilities.
The critical group which has fallen between the cracks of the current definition are families and carers of children with Special Educational Needs. Centres to support these families are currently closed, parents and carers have given up work to look after their charges, and there is no support net. They are often socially and emotionally vulnerable, and parent and carers associations across the country are asking for support. Many families are facing great hardship and the strain of looking after children and adults with special needs is taking its toll.
Charities such as Full of Life report that: “Learning disability and autistic patients are being failed by a system that does not provide proper care and support.” These families are known to the Government because they receive Disabled Living Allowance or Carers Allowance. Local Authorities also keep information on children and adults with disabilities.
From one of Full of Life’s recent surveys:
- 30 per cent of parents care for more than one person some care for three other people.
- 70 per cent have an average of 4.5 hours uninterrupted sleep. (Sleep deprivation is correlated with cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, increased risk of falling, and dementia.)
- 65 per cent have immune system problems.
- 55 per centhave been injured in their caring role due to falling or aggressive behaviour by the person they care for.
- 71 per cent feel depressed and sad – despite having medication!
- 36 per cent experience anxiety/panic attacks/OCD/agoraphobia/claustrophobia.
The Government talks about “parity” of provision between those with mental health conditions with physical health conditions, and it is past time this was put into practice. Ministers must show some joined up thinking and to amend their list of Vulnerable People to include those who have Special Educational Needs and hidden disabilities, as well as their carers.
Many of us will know families and neighbours in our areas who fit this description and need our support. Voluntary organisations are already reaching out to help, but the Government must recognise their needs and put the proper measures in place as soon as possible.