Foolhardy or Foresight?
The TLAP insight group was set up to examine the impact of Covid-19 on people accessing care and support. Tim Parkin, senior policy advisor at TLAP wonders if it was such a good idea.
Five months ago, in the teeth of the most major upheaval of our lifetimes, the concept of establishing the TLAP Insight Group seemed at best nebulous and at worst foolhardy. Like everyone else in the sector, we wanted to demonstrate an agile response to the Covid-19 situation, particularly in the light of the Coronavirus Act and possible impact on care and support received by people.
Keeping the perspective of people accessing care is at the heart of what we do at TLAP, alongside our colleagues from the National Co-Production Advisory Group. So the idea of setting up a group to examine this seemed to make sense. The TLAP Insight Group, now commonly known as TIG, was set up, and we were pleased and delighted that 16 key partners and allies were keen to be involved. They have worked hard to help produce something tangible and meaningful during its operation. The report, Understanding the impact of Covid-19 on people who access care and support will be published next month.
Doing the heavy lifting – what was going on around the country?
The big question was how we could gauge the impact of the pandemic on people receiving social care. We quickly found a sizeable amount of work was being undertaken by organisations and partners in various forms, ranging from research-based surveys to reports of what people were saying on the ground. It was a considerable challenge to sift and sort this volume of information in a systematic way, but what was gratifying was people’s willingness to share what they were doing; as one TIG member observed ‘organisations tend to hoard their own information’, and so this felt a positive step forward.
We ended up with a rapid evidence review. Whilst not comprehensive and representing a snapshot in time (April-June 2020), it has shed important light on people’s experiences and allowed us to identify some common issues that have affected those accessing care and support during the pandemic.
As you might expect it was a mixed scorecard. Some of the problems reported were experienced by everyone to greater or lesser degree, for example how to get the shopping done, although the impacts on people needing care and support are more profound: none more so than for people from BAME communities. Other reported difficulties, threw into sharp relief familiar problems that people often encounter with their support, for example poor communication. On the other side of the coin there was evidence of people reporting positive experiences, for example those councils who supported people to use their direct payments flexibly. The ‘positives’ should be retained as a vital legacy that informs not just how we recover from the pandemic, but also be woven into the fabric of social care reform that is so badly needed: fairer and more person-centred.
When we started on this path some people may have been concerned that TIG would be ‘just a meeting’ – another talking shop. But with the support of our partners, TIG has produced valuable evidence - illustrating how difficult the pandemic became particularly for marginalised groups, and suggests how TLAP partners can genuinely start to work at the highest level to influence policy. The forthcoming report includes recommendations to take forward, which include:
- Co-producing national guidance
- Increasing flexibility around the use of direct payments
- Restoring and strengthening support for unpaid family carers
- Building an understanding of how communities can look out for another in a sustainable way
Looked at through the lens of inequalities and knowing the disproportionate effect the virus is having on certain groups, it seems clear that being able to bring some of this information out of the shadows and put people who access social care at the heart of TLAP’s response, makes me feel that our hunch that setting up TIG was a good idea might just prove to have been a good one.