Campaigning for a National Care Service

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Conference
2022 National Delegate Conference
Date
22 February 2022
Decision
Carried as Amended

Conference notes the severe impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has exerted on the social care sector. Tens of thousands of elderly and disabled people have died from Covid-19 in care homes and other care settings across the UK since March 2020 and the death rate among care workers has been particularly high. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and migrant workers, who make up a larger part of the social care workforce, than most other parts of the economy.

Although the experience has varied across the four nations, Conference remains appalled at the treatment that thousands of care workers have received during this period. This has included, at various points, a lack of access to appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), no access to adequate sick pay when self-isolating, a failure to ensure sufficient availability of COVID-19 tests, and then being marked out as the first staff to be subject to mandatory vaccination (in England).

Despite everything that care workers have been through over the past two years, far too many are still receiving poverty pay. Conference notes the progress made in Scotland where, since May 2021, all care workers are now paid at least the real living wage and contrasts this with the pathetic response of the Westminster government, where what pay boosts there have been, continue to be piecemeal and short-term.

Conference further notes the damage done by the lack of employment security for many that work in social care. For example, in England a quarter of total staff in the sector are employed on zero hours contracts, but this proportion rises to more than half for care workers employed in the domiciliary part of the sector.

Conference asserts that it is therefore no surprise that vacancy rates in care homes continue to rise, reaching 11.5 percent in England at the end of 2021, as reported by the Care Quality Commission in January 2022.

Conference believes that there are a number of reasons the pandemic had such a damaging impact on social care, including the impact of decades of chronic underfunding and privatisation; the failure to treat the workforce with the respect it deserves; and the tolerance of far too many cowboy operators, as part of an under-regulated and massively fragmented care system.

Conference therefore asserts that the pandemic has demonstrated once and for all the need for a much more joined up and coherent system of care delivery a National Care Service that brings about consistent standards of care for the elderly and disabled, and consistent terms and conditions for the workforce.

Conference therefore denounces the recent white paper for social care in England as wholly inadequate for dealing with the scale of problems in the sector.

Conference reasserts its support for a much more fundamental overhaul of care provision based on a number of key elements: a massive increase in funding now and into the future; immediate, substantial and sustained pay rises (recognising that UNISON is calling for a national minimum wage of £15 per hour); a comprehensive workforce strategy for the sector; support for person-centred services that ensure the human rights of service users are protected; an end to the use of the profit motive in social care; support for public sector or genuinely non-profit provision of services; and a clampdown on the wholly inappropriate use of private equity in the sector. The ultimate aim should be to seek parity with the NHS, with care free at the point of use and for social care to be seen as a crucial part of the economic infrastructure.

Conference congratulates the union on its ongoing campaigning for a National Care Service and notes that this is beginning to deliver results in some parts of the UK. Conference notes that a plan for a National Care Service was achieved in Scotland in 2021, but also recognises the concerns of UNISON Scotland, particularly about the impact of the proposals on local government.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Intensify the union’s demands for a National Care Service, in line with the principles outlined above and backed by campaigning, lobbying and research;

2)Ensure that the union works across each part of the UK and with service users to share best practice in campaigning and developing National Care Services;

3)Work with other like-minded organisations across the sector as part of a broad based alliance of those calling for substantial changes to the delivery of care services.