LGBT Workers and Social Care

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2018

Conference notes with alarm that the crisis in social care continues to grow. Councils have been forced to make cumulative savings in adult social care from 2010 to 2017 of £6.3 billion and the annual local government finance survey published in February 2018 indicated that 40% of council budgets for 2018/19 will see spending on adult social care further reduced, while demand for adult social care services continues to increase.

Conference acknowledges that while this impacts negatively on our members working in social care in innumerable ways, the cuts affect different groups of members in different ways, with disproportionate impact on members of disadvantaged groups. Conference further acknowledges that there is substantial evidence that many social care providers lack understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues and that local authorities in England are doing little or no work directed at LGBT equality. This clearly has implications for LGBT workers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that LGBT workers are – and have always been – well represented amongst social care workers. However, they are often invisible. This may be an individual choice, or it may be a survival strategy. In general, workers give their best when they are able to be themselves at work. Seeking to hide a significant part of your identity at work is distracting, demotivating and energy-sapping. A workforce where LGBT workers are unable to be out at work is not likely to be one where workers can confidently meet the specific needs of LGBT service users, or even be aware that they have specific needs. This underlines the importance of negotiating robust best practice agreements on LGBT equality with employers, recognising and valuing diversity, alongside union organising and individual advice and representation.

Conference notes the findings of the most recent UNISON equality survey of our members, completed in Summer 2017. This showed that while LGBT workers are particularly likely to experience discrimination, they are unlikely to report it. The main reasons LGBT workers do not report discrimination is that they fear that neither they nor the issue will be taken seriously. This is backed up by 2017 research from the TUC ‘The cost of being out at work’. This showed that young LGBT workers and those in insecure employment are least likely to be out at work, fearing the reaction of others.

Conference notes that standardised monitoring of sexual orientation is currently being rolled out for all users of local authority social care in England, aged 16 years and over. This follows the Information Standard on sexual orientation monitoring, issued in September 2017 by NHS England under the Health and Social Care Act, which applies to all health and social care organisations. Front line staff will be key to implementation. This will sometimes mean staff asking service users their sexual orientation and filling in data for them. It is essential that staff are trained in appropriate language and appropriate setting for this; why sexual orientation information is being collected; how it will be analysed; what the information will be used for; and how it will be safeguarded.

It further notes that there was a press backlash when the announcement was made, with shock headlines claiming all service users were going to be asked if they were gay. Conference recognises that UNISON has an important role to play in counteracting scaremongering and in calling for training for all relevant staff.

Conference notes that that the outsourcing and privatisation of social care has led to deteriorating services and the widespread exploitation of workers through low pay, zero hours contracts and attacks on our members’ pay, terms and conditions, while generating profits for hedge funds and shareholders. Further, local authorities have to pick up the pieces when private providers collapse or pull out. The last few years have seen increasing numbers of private home care providers closing down and/or handing contracts back to local authorities. Private equity firms own three of the largest five providers of care homes. Four Seasons, owned by private equity group Terra Firma, only staved off the threat of going into administration in December through an agreement with its largest creditor as a first step in a major restructuring.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s continuing Save Care Now campaign. Evidence has clearly shown the multiple benefits to local authorities that have signed up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, including fair pay and conditions for workers, appropriate training and improvements in the quality of services. Similar work is now underway to promote our Residential Care Charter.

Conference calls on the local government service group executive to:

1)Urge branches to use the UNISON LGB and trans bargaining factsheets to review employer policies and agreements with employers with a view to achieving best practice on LGBT equality;

2)Work with the national LGBT committee to develop guidance for branches on the sexual orientation monitoring standard, including the need for all relevant staff to be provided with appropriate training;

3)Promote the guidance and encourage branches to raise the implementation of the sexual orientation monitoring standard with relevant employers;

4)work with the national LGBT committee to promote the Ethical and Residential Care Charters, emphasising the importance for LGBT members;

5)Continue to campaign against the privatisation of social care and for services to be brought back in house.