Matt Hancock announces badge for care home workers amid criticism of government's treatment of sector
Matt Hancock in Downing Street
Social care workers are to be given a badge entitling them to privileged treatment as the Government tries to quell mounting public concern at how the sector is coping with the coronavirus.
The Health Secretary said it would be a symbol that their efforts were recognised in the same way as those of frontline NHS workers.
Mr Hancock said the badge would give them access to the same "recognitions and benefits" as health service staff.
That would include priority access to shops during the lockdown period.
"One of the things that I’m most proud of during this terrible crisis is that people have held health and social care workers in such high esteem across the board," Mr Hancock said at the daily Downing Street press conference.
"It’s not clap for the NHS - it's clap for our carers. And to take this further were today introducing a single brand for social care to symbolise the entire care profession
"This is something I know so many people in the profession have called for.
He added: "This badge will be a badge of honour in a very real sense allowing social care staff produly and publicly to identify themselves just like NHS staff do with that NHS blue and white logo
"I know that many businesses will want to offer the same recognitions and benefits as they do wonderfully to the NHS."
The announcement was welcomed by many within the social care sector.
Care England tweeted: "Thank you @MattHancock for recognising social care and wearing @theCAREbadge. It means a lot to the sector."
But is also drew fury from opposition MPs and unions, with Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth, tweeting: "A badge? Really a badge?"
Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester and a former Shadow Health Secretary, added: "Of all the things that long-suffering social care staff in England most need, I would put a badge close to the bottom of the list."
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary for Public Services said: “Our care workers need more than a badge and a pat on their head to define their precious role in society.
"They need the protective equipment and testing on the front line now to protect their lives.
"Ministers should be moving mountains to support our care sector to get the kit workers need available where and when they need it.
"Care workers are serially undervalued, highly skilled and massively underpaid. It will take far more than branding to get them the recognition and support they deserve and that battle will continue until care workers are treated the same as NHS workers.”
The announcement follows growing concerns that Covid-19 is spreading rapidly in care homes, with industry group Care England reporting there had already been thousands of cases and deaths in the homes they represent.
But Mr Hancock insisted ministers had been "taking action" to protect care home residents from the start of the crisis as he vowed to offer testing for all residents showing symptoms of the disease.
Meanwhile, he said any resident being discharged from hospital would also be tested for the virus before returning to their care home in an effort to limit the spread of the disease.
In addition, Mr Hancock said new procedures would be introduced to make it easier for families to be with their loved ones before they die while limiting the risk of contracting the virus themselves.
He also insisted that the amount of personal protective equipment made available for care home staff will also be increased, amid claims that staff are being left "like lambs to the slaughter".
The Health Secretary added: "As much as the doctors, the nurses, the paramedics, you are on the frontline in this battle.
"I want to thank you for your courage and your commitment, for doing - paid or unpaid, formal or informal - the work that you do."
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "It’s right that the care, compassion and selflessness of care workers should be given proper recognition. They’re putting their lives on the line.
"But for all the warm words and promises about supplies of protective equipment, the situation appears to be getting worse, not better.
"Raising the status of the social care 'brand' is welcome but it must be backed by a long-term commitment to better pay.
"There must also be a move away from the fragmented and underfunded system that was already in crisis before the pandemic hit."