DURING his first press conference after his return to work, Boris Johnson celebrated that Britain was “past the peak” of infection. But in that statement there was little mention of care homes, where the picture is altogether different and where the peak is yet to occur.

This won’t come as news to readers of this paper who have read the tragic reports of those living in care homes, their families and those who care for our elderly.

As Britain is confirmed to have overtaken Italy as the country with the highest number of fatalities in Europe, increasingly questions are being asked about our care homes and why, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of deaths has almost doubled in a week.

There are heartbreaking stories told by those working in care homes. Some are of the impact of social distancing and the increased distress brought upon those who see their loved ones waving at them through the window, but who cannot understand in their confusion or distress why those sons or daughters can no longer come in to visit them. Then there are the stories of the impact on the families who are unable to see their loved ones before they die. And then there are the care workers themselves, some of whom barely paid the living wage, who work and serve in the midst of daily, cumulative loss.

Underlying all of these issues is a more fundamental question as to how we treat our elderly. It has been suggested that too many older people will have unnecessarily lost their lives as a result of this pandemic. In a society which has come to value productivity and economic usefulness as primary units of measurement, what value do we place on those who have run the race and now simply require our care? The answer in times of austerity seemed to suggest that cuts to social care represented an acceptable solution, even as demand for care has risen as a result of an ageing population.

One of the many consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a reappraisal of our priorities as a society and in the time to come the challenge will be whether these priorities will lead to fundamental changes or will disappear as quickly as the virus spread.

Over the past five years Government proposals on social care have been persistently avoided, delayed and postponed. A briefing from the House of Commons Library published at the end of last September found in summary that the last time the Government took an active decision on social care was in July 2015. That decision was to delay the implementation of a cap on lifetime care costs. Since that time there have been various announcements of green papers and white papers, by successive Prime Ministers, Chancellors and health ministers, including the current health secretary. The latest position, stated in September 2019, was that proposals will be published “in due course”.

No one could have predicted the devastating impact of an unknown virus upon the most vulnerable in our land. But the increasing daily death toll in our care homes is a stark reminder of the state of affairs which results from a political loss of nerve and a failure of commitment to those reliant on our care.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham.