The Office of National Statistics report that 27,300 excess deaths, or a rise of 93% on a typical year, have occurred in English and Welsh care homes since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, 13.6% of care home residents have died since the end of March. Two months ago, around the time of the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll which asked the public a series of questions about the crisis which was unfolding in care homes. At that point, 50% of those polled believed that the extent to which the coronavirus has affected care homes could have been avoided. When we asked the same question on Thursday 25th June, 65% of respondents stated that they believed the crisis could have been avoided – a rise of 15 percentage points.
Particularly strong majorities of respondents in the older age brackets believe that the extent of the crisis in social care could have been avoided, with 73% of 55-64 year olds and 69% of 65+ holding this view. There is also limited evidence that views are significantly impacted by political allegiance, as 57% of 2019 Conservative voters (a lower majority) are of an opinion that the extent to which coronavirus has affected care homes could have been avoided.
Although a clear majority of respondents believe that the impact of the coronavirus crisis in care homes could have been reduced, the public are relatively more divided in their views about the government’s general handling of the social care sector during the coronavirus pandemic. While a plurality of voters (40%) disapprove of the government’s actions in supporting the social care sector across the last few months, 29% state that they do approve.
Interestingly, a significant minority (26%) of the 2000 UK adults polled neither approve nor disapprove, while another 5% don’t know. The ambiguity of many respondents on the issue could reflect that it may be the case that a substantial number of people are not aware of the situation in the social care sector. It may also be that their opinion on government performance is mixed, or highlight that a section of the public is waiting until a full review is conducted into the Government’s response to the pandemic before it passes judgement.
Voters who backed the Conservatives in the 2019 election (despite a core aspect of their support coming from older people) clearly retain a degree of allegiance to the Government on this issue, with a plurality (38%) approving of their actions, and just 26% disapproving. Among 2019 Labour Party voters, less than a quarter (24%) support the government, while a majority of 53% disapprove of their handling of the social care sector.
Notably, a clear plurality of older respondents, perhaps more likely to be affected by the issue, disapprove of the Government’s handling of the crisis – 45% of 65+ respondents disapprove, versus just 24% who approve, and 48% of 55-64-year olds disapprove, in contrast to just 19% who approve.
Care homes in the UK are particularly reliant on foreign workers: around 8% (115,000 jobs) of workers in the adult care sector had an EU nationality, and a further 9% (134,000 jobs) had a non-EU nationality. In April, the government announced that free automatic one-year visa extensions will be extended to NHS and social care workers in medical roles during the coronavirus outbreak. Nevertheless, the influential cross-party Home Affairs Committee have since called for the scheme to be extended to include foreign care workers, some of whom face charges of thousands of pounds to stay in the country. A strong majority of respondents (72%) think that foreign care workers should be rewarded with a free visa extension. Just 14% of the public do not think the scheme should incorporate all workers in the social care sector. Over two-thirds (67%) of those who voted Conservative in 2019 believe the Government should re-consider their current policy on this matter.
Yvette Cooper, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, has stated that she intends to table an amendment to the Government’s forthcoming Immigration Bill which would grant all foreign NHS and social care workers free visa extensions. Confronted with such clear support for the measure among 2019 Conservative voters, it may be that a significant number of current backbench Conservative MPs come out in support of the amendment and force the government to extend its current policy to all foreign workers in the sector.
As the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 continues to gradually decline, we asked the public whether they thought the UK Government should begin to provide for and protect care homes more so than the NHS. A plurality of respondents (40%) believe that care homes should be prioritised over the NHS, yet 35% think that the NHS should continue to be more protected than care homes. Our latest result marks a small shift a gradual shift in the public’s attitude since we asked the same question at the end of April, when only 35% of the public believed care homes should be prioritised, and a plurality of 39% instead thought that the NHS should be provided and protected for as a greater priority. In both polls – a significant minority of respondents (ranging from 24% to 27%) don’t know how the UK Government should proceed going forward. There is no strong evidence that opinions on this question are impacted when the data is broken down into demographic groups.
Overall, although the majority of the public believe the extent of the impact of the coronavirus crisis in care homes could have been avoided, it is split on the Government’s overall approach to the social care sector. As the incidence of coronavirus within the population at large continues to decline, it is clear that the public increasingly recognises the need to protect the most vulnerable people, often those living in care homes, as a priority, even more so than the NHS.