Blog: The scandal of 15-minute social care visits must end

What could you do in 15 minutes?

Make a phone call? Take out the bins? Send a few emails?

It’s not long, but a quarter of an hour is all the time many home care workers have to wash, dress and feed those they look after. Clearly that’s unsustainable, and emblematic of a social care system in crisis, lacking the funding necessary to provide a decent and humane service.

Yet the financial pressure placed on local authorities means 15 minute visits are commissioned in 65% of councils in England and Wales.

In these visits – which may be the only daily human contact vulnerable adults have – everything must be taken care of. It’s absurd. So, with the help of former Brookside actress and 60 Minute Makeover presenter Claire Sweeney – we wanted to show just how absurd.

Our film, 15 Minute Care Makeover, is a spoof and features actors. But it has a serious message ­- that the lack of basic dignity provided by our care system is an outrage and it has to stop. Carers and the cared for are both being failed by a government that has slashed councils’ social care budgets, leaving a huge shortfall in funding. That leads to councils commissioning 15-minute visits.

UNISON has led the campaign for additional social care funding, but government cuts have left the service – a lifeline for so many people – hanging by a thread. A report out this week from the Institute for Fiscal Studies says one in ten councils have cut their spending on social care by more than a quarter.

The IFS says council spending on social care fell by 11% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2015/16, with six in every seven councils having made some cut in care spending per adult resident in that time. Areas of deprivation in London, Manchester, Tyneside and Birmingham have suffered larger cuts than more affluent parts of the country.

At his recent manifesto launch, Labour’s Manchester mayoral candidate Andy Burnham cited a care worker whose rota contained 48 visits in one 17-hour shift. The shortest was scheduled for just two minutes. The care worker was meant to finish at midnight, and be back at work at 3am.

Instead of decent care, regular interaction and the necessary time to support those in need, care workers instead are forced either to work unpaid or do the bare minimum in the time they have available. Meanwhile, the cared for sometimes don’t know who will be helping them get out of bed in the morning, how long they’ll be staying for and what they’ll have the time to do.

This is an inhumane way to deliver social care that fails the cared for and the care worker alike.

The government provided £2billion in the recent budget for social care, but that’s still painfully inadequate when council budgets have been cut so deeply and for so long. Instead what’s needed is a long-term funding solution to fix social care for good, and end the cost-cutting that leads to the national scandal of 15 minute care visits and elderly people left alone, frightened, hungry and unwashed.

One of the tests of a decent society is how we treat those who cannot care for themselves. Every day that we allow 15 minute care visits to continue is a day that we fail that test.

This blog was first posted at The Huffington Post