For immediate release on 21 April 2020

Coronavirus costs put services for people with disabilities and autism at risk, warns charity CEO

A charity that supports hundreds of children and adults with a range of disabilities, complex needs and autism across the South East has warned that the mounting costs of the coronavirus crisis could force the social care sector to close desperately needed services. 

Last weekend, the government promised local authorities an extra £1.6 billion to support vulnerable people within the community including those in social care, in addition to £1.6 billion pledged last month*, but Aspens Charities is calling for a guarantee that it will fund the full cost of social care during the crisis.

It also wants the government to stop slashing local authority social care budgets, so that the sector can continue to provide support to some of the most vulnerable within society.

Robert Shanahan, Aspens Charities CEO, says: “As well as the devastating human impact of Covid-19, there’s a huge financial impact for the social care sector, which could also be devastating. Aspens is losing thousands of pounds every day, because we’ve had to close our funded day services and high street charity shops - we’ll lose about £1 million in donations this year. At the same time, we’re facing extra costs for PPE** and agency staff, who are covering shifts for 1 in 6 of our frontline carers who are off work because of Covid-19. We also need funds to move much-needed services online. 

“Over the coming weeks, we will no doubt need to provide round-the-clock care for more of our service users, and potentially end-of-life care to meet the needs of the people we care for while freeing up NHS beds. The people we support have a range of disabilities, complex needs and autism, and we will do everything we can to continue giving them the quality of care and dignity they deserve. But the government must recognise that the social care sector is already thinly stretched after years of underfunding.”

Looking for reassurance from local authorities

Following a decade of austerity cuts, local authority funding doesn’t always cover the full cost of providing social care at the best of times. In light of the extra costs they now face, Aspens has written to the 30 local authorities it works with to seek reassurances that more funding will be provided quickly and with minimal red tape.

“Some local authorities, such as Kent, have been fantastic – they gave us a lump sum donation to help cover extra costs,” Shanahan says. “Others such as East Sussex and West Sussex have increased funding for some care packages for a set period of time, to allow for PPE and agency staff costs. Local authorities want to help, but the money comes from government and it’s not yet clear if there will be enough.”

The charity is also asking the public to support its vital services if they can by making a donation to its #careforthecarers fundraising appeal,*** which will help Aspens to continue providing life-changing care for people with disabilities, complex needs and autism.

Improved PPE distribution and testing are welcome

Aspens welcomes the government’s plans to overhaul distribution of PPE to the social care sector, which it says has been a “wild west” until now, with escalating prices and little guidance on where to source items or ensure quality.

“Right now, we have no gowns or respirators and we only received 300 single-use masks for each site that’s registered with the Care Quality Commission. When you consider how often they should be changed, that supply won’t last long,” explains Shanahan. “We’re so thankful to Chatham Grammar School, Canterbury University, and local business and seamstresses who have donated visors and masks to us, but we need more. No care worker should have to sacrifice their personal safety, or their family’s safety, in order to provide care and dignity for the vulnerable people that they support.”

The government’s promise to ramp up Covid-19 testing is also welcome, but Aspens wants a commitment that tests will be available for all frontline care staff, including those who provide non-residential support in the community, and vulnerable children and adults they support.

Life under lockdown with learning disabilities

Lockdown poses particular challenges for people with autism, who struggle with changes to their routine or diet, and with being unable to see friends or parents. Aspens is pleased that the government has relaxed social distancing guidelines for people with autism and learning disabilities, so that they can go out more than once a day, but wants a guarantee that vulnerable people will be treated fairly and proportionately if they break the rules.

“We’re afraid for our service users, because the recent Care Act amendment makes it much easier to section them,” Shanahan says. “Thankfully we don’t yet have a Covid-19 outbreak in any of our residential homes, and we have strict hygiene measures in place to try to prevent one, but the reality is that it is likely to happen. We’re fearful about how our frontline carers and the vulnerable people we support will cope.”

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Notes to editors

For further information or to arrange an interview with Robert Shanahan, Aspens CEO or a frontline care worker, please email [email protected] or call 07740 475749.

Images can be downloaded from: Aspens Charities images for media use

* and

** Personal protective equipment including masks, visors, gowns and respirators for frontline carers

*** Donations can be made to the #careforcarers appeal via Virgin Money Giving or Just Giving

About Aspens Charities

Aspens was created by the merger of two long-established charities, Autism Sussex and Pepenbury, in 2016. It provides residential care, supported living and community outreach services for 700 children, young people and adults across Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex and south London, who are living with disabilities and complex needs including autism.

The majority of the charity’s services are delivered in and around Pembury Village, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, where there are eight Aspens residential homes, supported living and outreach services. It also has residential homes in Bexley, south London; Edenbridge, Kent; Bognor Regis, West Sussex; and Bexhill-on-Sea, Robertsbridge and St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex. For more information please visit