From the TUC

Valuing our care workforce: Fair pay and respect for the job

25 Feb 2015, by Guest in Public services

Two stories this month have told us everything we need to know about the terrible social imbalances in the UK.

On the one hand we had the revelation that some of the wealthiest people in our society had been advised by HSBC about how to avoid paying tax. The consequences are a £34 billion tax ‘gap’ – money our public services desperately need.

On the other hand an authoritative new report from the Resolution Foundation revealed that at least 160,000 care workers were being collectively cheated out of £130m a year by virtue of being paid below the National Minimum Wage.

How can we claim to be a civilised society when we allow the people entrusted to care for our elderly and disabled people to be treated so outrageously and for the people they care for to be subjected to shorter and shorter visits?

Clearly part of the pay problem reflects an outdated and inaccurate view of the job that care workers are doing on a daily basis. 

Emma, a UNISON member who is a care worker, perfectly sums up this issue:

Whilst I am a low-paid worker in a female dominated sector, this is not how I see myself. I am a professional, a member of a new generation of care workers who are energetic, pioneering, and determined that things will change.

Sadly, very few people seem to see me and my colleagues in this way. Our jobs are seen as low-end – essential but dirty and dull. This failure to appreciate the level of skill and innovation needed to do my job properly is preventing our profession from maturing.”

Politicians need to start appreciating and getting behind care workers like Emma  – not just because no-one should be paid the bargain basement pay and conditions which home care workers face, but because a elderly and vulnerable people deserve better and a well-funded and resourced social care sector could help to remove so many of the pressures currently afflicting the NHS. The recent spike in admissions to Accident and Emergency departments and their inability to discharge patients on time were exacerbated by the lack of social care provision. 

All the main political parties now agree on the need for an integrated health and social care system. If the vision of an integrated system is to become a reality, more people will have to be provided with good levels of care in their communities and in their own homes. This vision won’t be realised until the poor treatment of care workers is addressed. 

If care work continues to be a profession that pays at such low – and often unlawful – levels then the fundamental problems within our care system will never be tackled. 

Turnover rates will continue to be sky high, which means that good, skilled care workers are constantly lost from the sector – exposing care users to a procession of often inexperienced and poorly trained workers. 

Even from a purely financial point of view, it does not make sense for the current state of affairs to persist.

Providing care in the home or the community is less expensive than doing so in an NHS hospital. It’s self-defeating to cut social care budgets to the bone and treat the workforce terribly when the consequence is simply even greater pressure on an already over-burdened health service.

Those in power need to wise up and heed the words of Emma. They must give care workers the respect, treatment and pay they deserve. Until they do, care users and care workers alike will continue to get a rough deal, and the NHS and the social care system will keep on being stretched to breaking point. 

Take action: Please support UNISON’s call for stronger minimum wage inspections in the care sector, to stop illegal underpayment of care workers. Sign the petition now!