Government social care plans: Where is the money?
Glynn Doherty, Social care trade union organiser
The government's white paper on adult social care in England has been met with an almost universal reaction - where is the money? This is despite workers having to pay an extra 1.25% in National Insurance to fund it.
"Chronic workforce shortages are the biggest concern...with uncompetitive pay the main culprit. There is nothing in the paper to suggest the government has any real strategy." Those are the damning words of the director of charity Age UK.
The 'promises' in the paper fall well short of tackling the crisis in the system. Reading the 100-page document is soul-destroying, it bears no resemblance to reality or what workers and specialists in the sector project is necessary.
Even the government predicts 7% of care home staff will leave by the end of this year, either through their 'no jab, no job' policy or disenchantment with pay, workloads and working conditions.
Data published in October 2021 showed the number of registered nurses in adult social care in England has declined again and is down by almost 17,000 (33%) since 2012.
The Tories are ploughing ahead with extending their vaccination policy throughout health and social care, which will cause further haemorrhaging of staff.
Ministers have made much of their plans to raise the minimum wage in 2022 by 6.6% to £9.50 an hour (if you're aged 23 or over). This is completely inadequate.
The most staggering statistic is that average pay across the whole sector will have to rise by 5.5% to remain legal under the new rates! Current average pay is just £9.01 an hour.
It is not just the level of take-home pay which needs addressing. Many workers are paid less than minimum wage to work 'sleep-ins', time in a service user's premises overnight to meet vital care needs. A recent judicial ruling concluded that this is not considered working, and so workers aren't entitled to the minimum wage.
Others, who work in the community, don't get paid for time travelling between service users' homes. There are increasing problems with staff not getting properly paid for undergoing compulsory training.
A paragraph saying "We also want to work with commissioners and providers to make sure care workers are paid for all the hours they work", is not clarified. There are, instead, unexplained references to "coaching", "support psychological wellbeing and resilience", and "a range of holistic interventions".
The paper glosses over the recent change in policy concerning the cap on costs, which means many will still have to sell their homes to access care (see 'Poorer pensioners fleeced by social care cap' at socialistparty.org.uk)
A recent survey suggests 400,000 people are currently awaiting assessment of their needs. The number waiting six months or more rocketed from 11,000 reported in September to over 40,000. 1.5 million hours of commissioned home care were not delivered in the three months to November.
The Labour Party mouths words of opposition in parliament, but the manifesto commitments given by Jeremy Corbyn to tackle underfunding, low pay and profiteering have been long-forgotten, and Labour councils continue to cut adult care.
The trade unions must step into the breach left by Labour. The GMB union's call for £15 an hour for social care workers is supported by the Socialist Party and many in the leadership of the other major care unions - Unison and Unite. But without an accompanying strategy for implementation, it remains simply a slogan.
The unions should combine resources to tackle low union density. They must quickly develop a pay strategy targeting some of the larger private and independent providers, threatening strike action if necessary.
Alongside this, the unions must demand the return to the public sector of all social care before the system collapses completely. Our health and wellbeing should not be for the private profits of the rich.
Privatised care home's snap closure
Half of councils have had to respond to care homes going bankrupt or closing in the last six months. One care home, Berkeley House in Kent which cares for adults with severe learning disabilities and autism, gave ten hours' notice of its closure. It had been unable to properly staff the home and provide safe care.
Residents and their families were left in the lurch. Meanwhile, the care home operator Achieve Together has no doubt made a handsome profit - why else would its owners be based in Jersey?
In The Socialist 8 December 2021:
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