Blog: Now is the time to end this national scandal

Care workers need a living wage and the country needs a national care service. It’s time to Pay Fair for Care

I’m delighted that UNISON is co-hosting our first virtual rally for care workers this week as part of our new Pay Fair for Care campaign.

Social care is a subject close to my heart, as I’m a long-term advocate for care workers and co-chair of the Future Social Care Coalition. One of my priorities as UNISON general secretary is for the union to lead ​a long-overdue revolution of the social care system.

The time to act is now. If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that the nation’s attitude to social care needs a complete rethink. Not tinkering with, not a new headline-grabbing strategy or plan. But a complete bottom-to-top, start-from-scratch reboot.

That’s something UNISON has been saying for years. The care system does not work. We need a national care service – like the NHS. Care workers need parity of esteem with their colleagues in the health service.

We’ve seen how the two systems are completely intertwined – if one fails, so will the other. Social care can no longer be treated as the forgotten frontline.

Social care is full of the most incredible people doing the most amazing work under the most unimaginable circumstances. But they are not respected or valued enough by government or their employers. Care workers are often paid poverty wages by care companies, while  many get no sick pay.

This is a system where three out of four workers are paid below the real living wage, where they have to use food banks to put food on their own tables, where they’re on zero hours contracts, having to do several jobs to survive and even then they still can’t afford to retire. Well, that system is exploiting the good will of the workforce.

Change must start with those doing the work. A comprehensive workforce strategy is vital, with a proper pay and grading system, matched to professional skills and training – like the NHS. Care is a skilled profession – the knowledge, patience and intuition required is astounding. Care workers must be given the respect, recognition and reward they deserve.

And as an absolute minimum, this must start with an end to poverty pay. Earning enough to feed your family is not too much to ask. A care system that substitutes applause for pay, thanks for respect, and a pat on the back for meaningful training is a national scandal. And it must change.

That’s why UNISON is working with politicians, other unions, charities, employers and celebrities, via the Future Social Care Coalition, to call for a real living wage for care workers across the UK.

Voices from across the sector and political divide are coming together to send a clear message that the government can no longer ignore – enough is enough, fund a real living wage for care workers.

Everyone – those giving and receiving care – deserves better. Our loved ones deserve better. Our communities deserve better.

I hope you will join me at the rally. And if you can’t, then you can still make sure you sign the petition calling for a living wage for care workers.

Now is the time to pay fair for care.