Social care is now beyond a crisis.

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2017 Local Government Service Group Conference
24 February 2017

This service group conference notes with alarm the continuing and deteriorating crisis of social care underfunding that makes it hard for local authorities and provider organisations to ensure decent jobs and quality services.

This service group conference supports the provisions of UNISON’s ethical and residential care charters. The charters provide a set of minimum standards in the sector which include requirements that care staff are paid at least the real living wage, on training provision and on improved scheduling of home care visits.

This service group conference supports the proposal that £2.4 billion a year in unallocated government held business rates be immediately returned to local authorities through a new social care grant. If this money was distributed using the Better Care Fund formula, councils would receive £millions additional funding – far exceeding that which can be raised through a 2% council tax precept.

This service group conference welcomes UNISON’s Care Workers for Change campaign initiative and looks forward to an expanded union membership base playing a key role in the public-facing campaign to increase central government funding for social care and in improved employee relations in the sector.

Older people trapped in hospitals because they cannot get social care in their own homes, was described as a ‘scandal’ by the last chancellor. But it continues. The monthly figures for August 2016 were 62,807 – a record and 40% higher than a year before. The promise of an extra £3.3bn from council tax and the improved Better Care Fund was too little, too late because most of it arrives not now, but at the end of the decade. The threats to local government funding will be further stretched by the imposition of the Local Government Finance Bill 2017 that will fundamentally alter how councils are able to pay for social care and put businesses at the forefront of financing local services.

Recent influential reports from the National Audit Office (NAO), the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Carter Review all reveal just how serious things are.

The crisis doesn’t just mean that operations are delayed because hospital beds aren’t available. It means people are dying earlier. Thousands of care workers don’t get paid for their travel time and don’t get the national minimum wage as councils turn a blind eye to care companies paying illegal wages, as a direct result of the squeeze on their budgets.

Adult social care is in crisis. All the evidence suggests that the position is getting worse, not better.

The ADASS reports further cuts to adult care services and NHS delayed discharge figures are now significantly higher than the levels that prompted the chancellor to announce extra resources in 2010.

The CQC talks of approaching a ‘tipping point’ as a challenging economic climate means greater demand on services and more problems for people in accessing care. This is translating to increased A&E attendances, emergency admissions and delays to people leaving hospital.

It warns that council budgets have not kept pace with demand. Public funding will rise by an average of 0.6% per year in real terms from 2015/16 to 2019/20 but the projected increase in demand pressures of 4% per year.

Providers face financial difficulties and so some have decided to withdraw from local authority contracts. Since April 2015 the growth in nursing home beds has stopped, with just 89 extra beds in the last 16 months. Thirty-two councils had residential or nursing care contracts handed back to them in the six months up to May 2016, affecting around 700 residents and 59 councils had home care contracts handed back, covering nearly 4,000 people. In short as profit margins of the private sector reduce, social care providers are giving up and handing back responsibility to an already financially creaking local authority.

This service group conference applauds the Social Care Project established in the North West region. This is a two year project financed by a combination of national, regional and branch funds which has as its aims to raise the standards of care for service users and the standards of pay, training and support for social care staff and to recruit those staff, the majority of whom are currently not in a union. The North West region has nearly 200,000 members and it is estimated in the same region there are currently around 215,000 social care staff employed across the social care sector with a tiny percentage being unionised. Our region took the decision to prioritise raising the pay and working conditions of mainly low paid women in this sector by employing organisers and targeting the care providers who break the law with non-compliance with the National Living Wage, non-payment of sleep-ins and non-payment of holiday pay as well as the continuation of 15 minute visits and non-payment for travel time and other Dickensian practices that mean vulnerable members of our community are put at risk and do not receive adequate care.

The project is rigorously monitored with region and branches working closely together to agreed targets that are measurable and transparent.

With the significant challenges that exist in achieving annual pay rises above 1% in local government it is anticipated this project will raise the income of carers, raise the plight of underfunding of local government, increase councils signing up to the Ethical Care Charter, raise the quality of care provided to service users and challenge rogue employers who break the law with illegal pay whilst getting organised and recruiting thousands of activists and new members across the North West region.

This local government service group conference instructs the SGE to:

1)Share details of the NW project across the UK, including the council template motion that seeks to remove care providers that are hostile to trade unions;

2)Send the Dignity in Social Care – Improving Social Care Services and Jobs motion to all councils across the 4 countries of our union;

3)Encourage all regions to consider prioritising social care and developing their own regional projects;

4)Collate and share information on successful legal challenges taken by UNISON on non-compliance with the National Living Wage (sic) against care providers;

5)Re-circulate materials explain the Care Workers For Change campaign;

6)Report back to next year’s conference on all the action points above.