Severe weather events have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable people.
Vulnerability is due to two main types of factors: the physical and psychological, and the social and environmental factors such as isolation, poorer quality housing, or lower incomes.
Social services have a long history of understanding this interplay of factors and are well-placed to mitigate the impact on vulnerable people but this must be part of partnership working.
The Care Act promotes a wider duty of prevention and wellbeing for a local population which means social care must work with partners in the voluntary, private and statutory sectors to make a reality of this preventative role.
At a learning event in June 2014, local authorities, the voluntary sector, government departments and care providers shared lessons from the storms and floods over the winter of 2013-14. Some key points were:
- Most vulnerable people were known to and supported by voluntary sector and community groups, many of which would not think of themselves primarily as “social care” groups
- There is a need for new partnerships e.g. utility companies are often at the forefront of any response for vulnerable people
- Adult social services must have a facilitative relationship with care providers, extending beyond any statutory role as commissioners of care; they could assist providers with business continuity plans for extreme weather conditions
- Social care services must have a presence in key emergency response arrangements
Similar principles have emerged in recent heatwaves. For example:
- Housing providers were often well placed to identify those vulnerable to heat and to take mitigating measures such as providing fans
- There was a role in the education and training of care providers, for example asking care staff to be even more vigilant than usual in ensuring that people had easy access to water
- Telecare could support vulnerable people through temperature sensors
How can local authorities prepare for extreme weather events and what specific role can be expected from adult social care?
Knowing who and where vulnerable people are is important. It is unlikely this can be done through precise “master lists”. Local authorities, even with health partners, are simply not resourced to compile and maintain such lists.
Rather, it is a matter of creating some agreed criteria for vulnerability factors and working with partners to ensure communities are able to apply them. There are some relatively straightforward criteria that could be used such as age and disability.
However vulnerability is a mix of intrinsic physical, psychological and external environmental factors, as the Climate Just research demonstrates, so we would need to add factors such as whether someone lives alone, income levels or housing quality. Local authorities working with partners could work to these criteria. The Climate Just website provides compiled maps to assist with this work.
The response to mitigate the impact of extreme weather for vulnerable people should be seen as a starting point of local plans. The National Adaptation Programme, supported by Defra, has the health and wellbeing of individuals as one of five key strands. In local exercises due attention must be given to this strand.
Using technology for low-cost ways of supporting and communicating with large numbers of people and capitalising on the presence of public health in local authorities could assist in this work too.
Finally, continued investment in social capital in local communities, such as good neighbour schemes, will be key.
Social care services and local authorities have a pivotal role to play, not primarily as service providers due to the low numbers of people in direct contact at any one time, but as enablers and promoters of resilient communities and partnerships.
Simon Williams, civil contingency lead, Adass and ADCS