The impact covid has had on the sector

By Sam Jackson 

At first there was the shock that all of us felt as the country went into lockdown and we felt the need to be looking after our colleagues and the vulnerable people we were working with. How would we be able to work – at home? Turning bedrooms or kitchens into, hopefully temporary, work spaces. Who was going to check the office phone for messages coming through from people whose support had all of a sudden been pulled away? It was difficult at times to know whether the skills of empathy that advocates need were making it easier or harder to cope with the massive anxiety everyone was feeling – alongside the signs that people in our communities hadn’t forgotten the value of mutual aid, looking out for their neighbours.

As time went in I think those of us in the advocacy sector had mixed feelings – the years of austerity that we had been at the frontline of, the diminishing of social care and the strains on the NHS, and the effect of this on the people we advocate for, were now being experienced by millions of people. There seemed to be a growing awareness that this was not just a physical disease but that there needed to be discussions about the impact on people’s mental health. Lockdown was demonstrating the basic human need for the bonds between family and friends and social support – and the detrimental effect this would have on anyone if they weren’t nurtured.

And whilst we had been trying to raise the issues of the effect of austerity on social care and the NHS, and had absolute sympathy and solidarity when ‘clapping for keyworkers’, we also had to maintain our critical edge and distance. As advocates who had had to ask difficult questions of social workers and NHS professionals in our working lives, on behalf of people too often the obects of decisions made by health and social care, we also had to maintain our professional relationships with people who were under immense strain themselves on the frontline of the crisis.

And we kept hold of the idea that this was a ‘temporary crisis’, and we would be gradually eased out of lockdown. Then, certainly in Bradford, we had the kick in the teeth of being put back into social restrictions on the eve of Eid. We had the growing realisation that people deprived of their liberty in care homes were not getting seen by anyone, that the people who had, maybe, been able to ‘just about cope’ with their mental health had had, at best, a weekly phone call.

The hope that we have to have in the advocacy sector is that this covid crisis has brought home the need for social and health care not to be something that is part of ‘balancing the books’ by governments that have too often seen this as a problem to be solved. But that a ‘healthy’ nation is a pre-requisite for being a decent society. This means people’s emotional and mental health just as much as physical health. And a light needs to be shone on how the people we put into residential care and hospitals are to be treated as human beings with needs, but also wishes and hopes of their own. This is what we work in advocacy for.