A significant number of Scots who rely on care services in their own home saw support reduced or withdrawn during the coronavirus lockdown.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission said it was “deeply concerned” about the reduction in support provided, as it warned that family support that may have been put in place may not be “sustainable”.
It called on both the Scottish Government and the local authority body Cosla to “jointly commit to recommencing care and support at pre-pandemic levels, as a minimum”.
In addition, where people now require increased support, either due to the effects of Covid-19 or the lockdown, the commission said a full assessment of their needs should be carried out.
It made the call in a new report looking at how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted on care received by people in their own home – which can include help with getting up in the morning or going to bed, as well as assistance to wash, use the toilet, eat, drink and take medication.
“A considerable proportion of people who use social care support at home have experienced either a reduction or complete withdrawal of support,” the report found.
“In many cases, the withdrawals and reductions seen in the early months of the pandemic happened rapidly, without either adequate communication or assessment of the proportionality of such decisions.”
The report continued: “The impact of this policy and practice has had a direct and detrimental effect on people’s rights, including those protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.”
A third sector organisation told the commission that some people had seen their social care packages “cut basically overnight”, with some of those who had previously received three visits a day not having anyone visiting to help them.
Overall the commission concluded that “Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the way in which social care support has been delivered in Scotland, leading to significant gaps in the realisation of rights for people who rely on such support”.
While family members may have stepped in to provide care during the lockdown period, the report said that it should “not be assumed” that this would be “sustainable over the long term”.
The report added that the pandemic has “exacerbated pre-existing inadequacies in the models of social care access, funding, procurement and commissioning, which are unable to provide people with the support which best and most appropriately fits their life”.
Commission chair Judith Robertson said: “Social care is an essential investment in realising people’s rights, particularly those of us who are disabled, older or provide unpaid care.
“Delivered properly, social care should enable people to access their rights to family life, health, education, employment and independent living in the community, among others.
“That’s why the commission is deeply concerned about the reduction and withdrawal of social care support to people during Covid-19, and the impact this is having on their rights.”
She added: “The commission recommends that the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) should jointly commit to the return of care and support at pre-pandemic levels, as a minimum.
“Looking ahead, human rights can and should be used by public authorities as a tool to strengthen how decisions are made about social care. This would ensure stronger protections and respect for people’s rights as we all continue to navigate our way through Covid-19.
“Ultimately, the commission wants to see a social care system, based on human rights, capable of delivering the outcomes which are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult for both those receiving and providing adult social care.
“It is critical that social care support is maintained as far as possible to ensure the safety, dignity and human rights of people who already receive support, and that of their unpaid carers.
“We’ve allocated £150m for social care as part of our additional Covid funding this year to help the sector mitigate the financial implications of the pandemic.
“Unavoidable short-term changes in people’s support have been necessary due to a reduction in workforce capacity as a result of workers self-isolating or being unwell, or many group-based supports running at reduced capacity due to physical distancing measures.
“In some instances the support needs may also have changed and required review or amendment.”