‘UK families lost breadwinners’

Roy Taylor is a member of the Cabinet Office Tsunami Group which
deals with the catastrophe’s UK aftermath

When a social services director was needed at short notice to
attend a tsunami response meeting in London, Roy Taylor found
himself to be the man. Since then Taylor, who is community services
director at the London Borough of Kingston upon Thames, has been
co-ordinating the Association of Directors of Social Services’
response to the disaster.

He is a member of the Cabinet Office Tsunami Group, which includes
representatives from the government and other agencies, such as the
British Red Cross. The group meets fortnightly to look at the
support being given to people affected by the tsunami in the UK –
those who have returned from the region, been bereaved, or whose
loved ones are still missing.

The group has looked at issues including body identification, death
certification, and repatriation – about 144 UK citizens were
killed. It has also examined the problems that some people have had
with health, social care and benefits services, with Taylor then
intervening and contacting fellow social services directors in some
cases to make sure help is available.

“From a social work perspective there were people who were injured
and that has created financial and emotional difficulties. Quite a
lot of people were on holiday in the region without holiday
insurance and there were people living in the affected areas who
didn’t have their businesses insured. Some families lost
breadwinners,” says Taylor. Consequently, many have found it hard
to meet mortgage payments, particularly where self-employed people
have not been able to work because of injury.

He says that individual contact with social services seems to have
been little more than “a trickle overall”, but the true extent is
not known. However, of the 12,000 or so UK residents who flew back
after the tsunami most have “simply, somehow settled back into
their lives” and not been in contact with social services.

Most problems have been of a practical nature, says Taylor, but he
adds that it is only now that some people are realising how
significantly they have been affected emotionally.

“There are an awful lot of people who after a while will recover
enough to be able to cope with life. Not everyone will need ongoing
counselling. There is a danger in labelling people as social
services or mental health service clients as they don’t see
themselves in this way.”

Via the Local Government International Bureau, 100 local
authorities have offered to help in South East Asia, and as a
result eight consortia of local authorities have been paired with
certain areas in Sri Lanka and are either assessing needs or
providing help. Some local authorities in London are hoping to do
work in Jaffna, a Tamil area in the north of the island – at least
four London boroughs have significant Tamil populations.

Taylor says that the lessons learnt from the tsunami will help to
shape future responses to disasters. To this end, he is going to
Gothenburg later this month to look at how Sweden dealt with the
aftermath of the tsunami, as it was one of the hardest hit
countries in Europe.

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