On his first day as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson promised to fix the crisis in social care. It took nearly two years, but last month the Conservative government finally told the nation what it was going to do.
Unsurprisingly, the government’s plans were quickly identified as flawed and ineffective. Demand for care – from short-term needs to long-term support – is rising and the levels of unmet need are already at unprecedented levels.
Poverty pay is endemic in the sector: three-quarters of care workers earn below the real living wage. There are currently over 110,000 vacancies in the English social care workforce – and that’s before many more are forced to leave because of the mandatory vaccine requirements. The acute shortage of workers is causing care providers to stop accepting new requests for care or even hand back contracts.
Social care needs urgent investment. The government’s big idea is a “social care levy” in the form of aa £12 billion tax rise from April 2022 which will hit all workers – including social care staff on the minimum wage – but which will be channelled to the NHS for at least the next three years.
No extra cash is available to address the current crisis, recruit more workers or improve the quality of care received by the most vulnerable in our society. One commentator neatly summed up the proposals: “Johnson has managed to create a social care plan that essentially has no plan for social care.”
National care service
UNISON is the largest trade union in social care and has long been campaigning for a well-funded integrated national care service which pays workers a fair wage and invests in their training and development. I believe a national care service is what people in this country want and deserve and one day the campaign will be successful.
While that national campaign continues UNISON members across the East of England are standing together to fight for fairer workplaces for themselves and their colleagues. Care workers know they have the backing of the communities they serve to demand ethical care. Due to the fragmented way social care is commissioned and delivered, there is a range of activities across the region
We now have a forum for all our social care activists to meet and share ideas about how to make their local campaigns even more effective. They are hoping to mirror the successful campaigns run by UNISON activists in other areas of the country that have secured local improvements by pressuring their local council. If you work in social care and want to get involved, you can register here.
On 25 October at 6pm, we launch the union’s campaign for improved working conditions for social care staff in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. The online meeting will hear from front-line care workers in the counties, as well as UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea and the Living Wage Foundation’s Sara Johnson.
We asked Labour councillors to propose a motion at last week’s meeting of Essex County Council recognising the fantastic work of social care staff across the county during the pandemic and calling on the council to ensure that all for workers in all services they commission to be paid at least the living wage and receive occupational sick pay (including while isolating due to coming in close contact with Covid).
Disappointingly Conservative councillors voted to delay consideration of these measures until next year. However, we will not give up and will keep up the pressure.
On 27 November, a rally in Ipswich will kick start a campaign in Suffolk.
While the Conservative government refuses to introduces the social care reforms that are desperately needed, I know our members will not give up. Whether involved in national or local campaigns or becoming stewards in their own workplaces, UNISON members are helping make social care better for us all.