First published: 28 August 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12645
In the context of very high mortality and infection rates, this article examines the policy response to COVID‐19 in care homes for older people in the UK, with particular focus on England in the first 10 weeks of the pandemic. The timing and content of the policy response as well as different possible explanations for what happened are considered. Undertaking a forensic analysis of policy in regard to the overall plan, monitoring and protection as well as funding and resources, the first part lays bare the slow, late and inadequate response to the risk and reality of COVID‐19 in care homes as against that in the National Health Service (NHS). A two‐pronged, multidimensional explanation is offered: structural, sectoral specificities; political and socio‐cultural factors. Amongst the relevant structural factors are the institutionalised separation from the health system, the complex system of provision and policy for adult social care, widespread market dependence. There is also the fact that logistical difficulties were exacerbated by years of austerity and resource cutting and a weak regulatory tradition of the care home sector. The effects of a series of political and cultural factors are also highlighted. As well as little mobilisation of the sector and low public commitment to and knowledge of social care, there is a pattern of Conservative government trying to divest the state of responsibilities in social care. This would support an interpretation in terms of policy avoidance as well as a possible political calculation by government that its policies towards the care sector and care homes would be less important and politically damaging than those for the NHS.
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