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If we value the work social care workers do, then we should be prepared to pay for it

If we value the work social care workers do, then we should be prepared to pay for it

Since 2010/11 there has been a real terms cut in social care funding of £500m, writes Jim McMahon MP. | PA Images

5 min read

Social care workers are going to need massive investment to deal with the coronavirus crisis on top of a decade of chronic underfunding that they have already suffered.

Our nation is feeling the pressure of the COVID-19 outbreak, and as the country braces itself for the coming weeks and months, we will see the very best of people as we mount our collective response. But most important of all for me is the recognition and acknowledgement that social care workers are finally getting, by the public at least.

For too long the work they have done has been either taken for granted or ignored completely and it has been our local government heroes who have been trying to keep it going as budgets plummet and demand rockets.

They are going to need massive investment to deal with this crisis on top of a decade of chronic underfunding that they have already suffered and its urgent they are treated with the respect they deserve from government as vital protective equipment such as masks, aprons, gloves and sanitizer are distributed, but also as testing is rolled out from its woefully low levels.

But we cannot allow this new acknowledgement to be little more than warm words. Nor can we allow the funding crisis in local government to continue after we are through this crisis. For too long government has ignored the building crisis and deferred the financial burden to councils. Not only have they lost 60p in every £1 since 2010, the demand for adult social care and children’s services has increased significantly. The response has been to add that pressure on hard-pressed council taxpayers.

This isn’t anywhere near enough to deal with the cost of rising demand, but it doubles down on an already hugely regressive tax system. Council tax has its place, but it also has its limitations, especially as it now takes 8% of the income of lower earning households, compared to 1% for the highest earners. And it will get worse as the most recent budget expects and additional £8bn to be raised from the tax, meaning more inflation busting increases were being planned for.

Since 2010/11 there has been a real terms cut in social care funding of £500m

Our social care system needs a radical overhaul from top to bottom. To start with we don’t pay social care workers fairly, nor do we reward experience and service; according to the Kings Fund the average rate is £8.10 an hour, and almost no acknowledgement of service is seen with the pay difference between those with 1 years’ experience and 20 years’ experience is just 15p an hour.

We have seen recently with the debate over the government’s plan for a points-based immigration system the strength of feeling in the wider community that low pay does not equal low skill. Many care workers are doing jobs the rest of us could not and would not do, so they should be paid in recognition of the vital service that they provide.

On top of the pay pressures, 24% of jobs in the social care sector are on zero-hours contracts, when you look at the domiciliary care workforce 43% of those were on zero-hours contracts. And on top of the unstable nature of zero-hours contracts, there’s a massive 30% staff turnover as well.

This is reflected throughout the sector; it means that there are 122,000 social care vacancies in England. Which translates to those working in the sector, a huge chunk of them on zero-hours contracts, picking up the strain and being under massive pressure daily. It’s no wonder that staff turnover is at 30% in these conditions, it’s impressive that it isn’t higher!

The entire situation is hampered by the fact that it starts at the very beginning, apprenticeship rates for the social care sector are in the lowest possible band, at £3,000 a year. Only 3 apprenticeship roles listed received less, whereas 511 job roles attracted more.

There’s a huge hole in terms of funding that affects every single one of those points above, since 2010/11 there has been a real terms cut in social care funding of £500m, and according to the Local Government Association we still face a £4billion hole in social care funding.

These aren’t just numbers, they have real implications for those who need it most. The cuts to funding have meant that right now Age Concern assess that there are 1.4million older people currently not getting the care that they need. This isn’t right. This can’t be allowed to continue.

If we value the work that social care workers do, as I know we collectively do, then we as a collective should be prepared to pay for it. Give social care workers better pay, better terms and conditions, and real career progression, and let’s make sure that everyone gets the care they need in old age.

Councils and social care providers won’t be able to hold back the tide for much longer without proper investment. Once this current crisis is over, we must settle the long-term funding of social care and give local government genuinely fair funding to reward those we now rightly see as public sector heroes.

 

Jim McMahon is the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton and is shadow minister for housing, communities and local government.

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