COVID19 and long-term care: Social Affairs + Civil liberties committees hold a joint hearing

On 28th January 2021, the EP Committees for Employment and Social Affairs as well as for Civil Liberties, Home Affairs organised a hearing on the “Consequences and lessons from the COVID-19 crisis for people living in residential institutions: a social and human rights perspective” in presence of Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, and Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli. AGE Platform Europe, was invited to deliver his views together with the European Disability Forum, the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities, the Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions.

First speaker was Commission Vice-President Dubravka Suica, who recognised the important role of carers in the pandemic and that the problems revealed structural deficiencies. She emphasised that while member States are responsible for long-term care policies, the EU has a role to play and did provide guidance via the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and to provide funding in structural funds. She announced the Commission will start an European Parliament pilot project on loneliness and called for participation in the consultation process started for the next 12 weeks with the Green Paper on Ageing.

Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli emphasised that the lack of treatment of older persons in residential care constituted a denial of human rights. Vaccine procurement and the Commission’s investment initiatives in the crisis response are tools that can be used to counter this situation. Ms Dalli emphasised that persons with disabilties have the same rights as everyone to be included in the community and receive support and stressed her priority to transition to community-based care.

Dr Joana Goodey of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) presented the actions taken by the FRA during the crisis, with three bulletins looking at the situation of older persons. She underlined there is no breakdown about infections and deaths by the type of care institution they are taking place in. She stressed the legal obligations of the EU under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN Charter of Rights of Persons with Disabilities and gave account of violating practices such as keeping sick residents deliberately away from hospitals and disproportionate exit bans and visiting restrictions. The impact of the crisis has been disproportionate on some groups which are overrepresented in residential care, such as older women.

Ms Sanna Ahola of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions also highlighted the blanked decisions for confinement that worsened the situation of persons in institutions, isolating them without any alternative to maintain contact with their families.

Mr Ioannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum, said that the pandemic worsened the already bad situation of persons with disabilities, with persons being denied treatment, institutions calling ambulances that never arrived and even reports of cases of sexual abuse during complete confinement. He called for a committee to look into the violations of rights of persons with disabilities and for a stop of funding for institutionalisation. He underlined the importance of vaccinating persons with disabilities and to make progress in adopting the horizontal equal treatment directive.

Mr Thomas Bignal represented the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities, telling that in some cases home care and day care services had to stop entirely due to confinement measures. Many social services had to adapt very profoundly and rapidly and were denied public support for this – it was very challenging to provide quality of life in the care sector while all was mobilised to maintain quality of care with understaffed services. Additional funding from the EU rather flowed into the hospital sector rather than into care.

Mr. Maciej Kucharczyk of AGE Platform Europe referred in his speech,to the very heavy death toll in residential care for older people across the EU, their suffering of loneliness and exclusion and abandonment. He said there was a lack of adequate and accurate date about COVID in long-term care and that many situations are a flagrant violation of human rights. Mr. Kucharczyk called on the European Parliament to investigate what went wrong in Europe’s care systems and learn the lessons. AGE with its partners of the European Disability Forum and the European Public Service Unions, asked Members of the European Parliament to put in place an investigation into what has happened in residential care during the pandemic, a statement that was supported by many MEPs. The European Commission should also play an active role in using all its powers to ensure accessible and quality long-term care throughout the EU in the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Furthermore, he called for an EU Age Equality Strategy on the model of other quality strategies.

Mr Radan Kanev, MEP, underlined it was important to discuss funding for social services to be in line with the goals of developing quality long-term care. Ms Klara Dobrev, MEP, emphasised the responsibility to care for older persons and that those who passed away still had will to live and meet their grandchildren. Maite Pagazaurtundua, MEP, called for ensuring better living conditions for persons in institutions and called the fact that data about fatalities was absent ‘shocking’. Ms Sywia Spurek, MEP, emphasised the role of the UN CRPD and the recommendation received by the EU in 2015 to freeze funding for segregating persons into institutions. Mr Pierfrancesco Majorino, MEP, called for the EP to follow the call of AGE, EDF and EPSU to investigate the handling of COVID19 in long-term care settings.

> You can watch the recording of the EP public hearing here

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