Aditya Chakrabortty provides a timely reminder of the forgotten side of the social care system – carers in the homes of sick or disabled people (Care workers with coronavirus face an awful choice: live in poverty or risk killing your patient, 9 July). He rightly highlights the appalling statutory sick pay levels that disincentivise domiciliary care staff from absenting themselves when they become ill. But they are similarly disadvantaged when it comes to testing for Covid-19.
Only at the start of July did the government introduce measures to allow staff in care homes to be tested weekly (Report, 3 July), whether or not they have symptoms. Perversely, this does not extend to domiciliary care workers. My wife and I experienced this absurdity last week, when our disabled daughter sought to return to independent living after sheltering with us during lockdown. One of her personal assistants was told that she had used up her “share” of tests (two) and could not be tested. Hence, unlike carers in care homes, our daughter’s carers must come and go with no checks on whether they may be carrying an infection.
The potential for spreading coronavirus in the domiciliary care sector is huge. In 2016, 629,000 people were employed in delivering domiciliary care, many funded by personalised budgets in which local authorities make payments not to the carer but to the sick or disabled person, who then acts as the employer. It is an ambiguous employment relationship in which the local authority holds the purse strings while the sick or disabled person must try to be a decent employer.
The complexities of registering as an “employer” to acquire rights to Covid-19 tests were not part of the deal they signed up for. No doubt, many sick or disabled “employers” would love to be more generous to their carers, but their hands are tied by the budgets they are allocated. The carers have no collective voice through a trade union and few means of self-protection over health and safety issues. If the denial of Covid-19 testing results in a further peak of infections among this group, the inequalities of the system will be exposed. But should we have to wait for this?
• There is an aspect of coronavirus testing (Asymptomatic testing extended to thousands of workers in England, 9 July) that needs to be addressed urgently. I have power of attorney for the health and welfare of an 88-year-old with dementia and mobility problems. She is fortunate to have 24-hour care by an agency in her own home and has three different carers each day.
Surely there is an issue of equal opportunity as regards care for those in a care home, taxi drivers, cleaners and shop workers, and that of care workers (many self-employed) providing care for the sick and vulnerable in their own home. For the last three months, those dependent on care workers coming into their home have just had to hope that their invaluable carers they are not infectious. If care workers in care homes are now going to be entitled to weekly testing surely such testing should be available to those dependent on care in their own homes.
• I do not want a half-price meal voucher (Report, 8 July). I would much rather care workers, as described by Aditya Chakrabortty, were supported with this money. I don’t suppose many of them will be able to use the vouchers.
New Barnet, London