The policy response to COVID-19 in England is complex and evolving. During the first wave of the pandemic, government support for social care was too slow and limited, leading to inadequate protection for people using and providing care. In this paper, we analysed national government policy on adult social care in England after the first wave of the pandemic – between June 2020 and March 2021. Given that we only looked at central government policies, our analysis focused on a limited part of the policy response. Further analysis is needed to understand how approaches to supporting social care differed between local areas.

Overall, we found a mixed picture. Support in some areas improved, such as access to testing and PPE, and the priority given to social care by national policymakers appeared to increase. Groups using and providing social care were prioritised for COVID-19 vaccines. But major challenges remained, policies in several areas continued to be slow, fragmented, and short-term, and gaps in the policy response risk increasing inequalities. Long-term structural challenges – such as chronic underfunding and workforce issues – continued to shape the policy response and impact of COVID-19 on social care users and staff. Comprehensive reform of adult social care in England must now be a priority for government. If it continues to avoid reform, government will be choosing to prolong major public policy failure and will break its promise to provide people with ‘the dignity and security they deserve’.

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