Before the recent Autumn Statement, there was plenty of chatter about the government – at long last – putting more money into social care. The system has been starved of funds in recent years, with councils forced to provide significantly more care with vastly reduced funds. Only today, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reported that London has reached “crisis level” when it comes to care home closures.
The impact – on those who need care and those who provide it – has been profound and damaging. Staff in social care often face salaries that amount to less than the minimum wage, never mind any sort of living wage. Some are facing pay cuts and many often have to work long hours, spending hours travelling between visits when they are not paid for their travel time.
Only this week Tricuro – a care company set up by Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth councils – told the unions that it was going ahead with plans to cut the weekend enhancements and bank holiday pay of more than 800 staff. In October it had given staff just eight days to ‘voluntarily’ agree to cut their pay telling them “Should you not voluntarily agree to the changes in your terms and conditions, it will be necessary to move to a formal process of dismissal.”
All of this makes it harder to provide the best quality care for those who need it.
Local authorities are alert to the increasing strain that social care is being put under, and the best authorities have taken the proactive step of signing up to our Ethical Care Charter – which guarantees decent pay and training because those authorities realise that means better care. Even at time of great financial hardship, when local government has faced brutal cuts, some councils are still making choices that are right for the care worker and the cared for.
But the reality is that as long as social care is so cruelly underfunded, problems will persist and will only be exacerbated by an ageing population. That means real and lasting impacts for the care worker and the cared for.
As a result, this government will come to regret ignoring the overwhelming evidence that social care needs greater resources. UNISON has outlined how the government could allocate the surplus it will have from next year’s growth in its share of business rates to boost social care funding. For example, it would deliver an extra £32.7m for Surrey – equivalent to over 2 million hours of extra care a year, enough to provide nearly 3,000 elderly people with two hours care a day. This could still be a plausible future funding source for social care – and we hope that the government will return to it either in next week’s local government announcement or in the budget.
But for now, our social care services are facing a daily crisis. And the government have missed a real opportunity to do something about it.