Blog: Launching UNISON’s campaign for a National Care Service

It’s time for change. Social care should become part of a nationally recognised institution, as respected as the NHS

Portrait of Christina McAnea

It’s clear to everyone that social care is broken. During the pandemic, this crucial public service was left exposed to the ravages of COVID-19. Care workers forced to work without PPE, no sick pay for self-isolation and older and disabled patients discharged from hospitals into care homes while COVID-positive. It led to a national tragedy and the scale of loss was among the worse in Europe.

But the problems in social care didn’t start when COVID-19 arrived. For decades, governments have tried to run our social care system as a privatised bargain basement service, where care workers are left unsupported and care recipients routinely let down.

Most social care in England is commissioned by local government and delivered by private and independent companies. The system has been run down by a combination of funding cuts to councils and profit extraction by some providers. National standards are not properly enforced and care workers routinely face poverty wages and even outright exploitation.

Pay for care workers is at rock-bottom minimum wage rates, even though it’s a difficult, skilled job that requires them to take on huge responsibilities. Some receive even less, because they are not paid adequately for travel time or overnight sleep-in shifts. Is it any wonder there are 165,000 vacancies in the sector? By far the highest rate of unfilled posts for any sector of the economy.

Despite the Westminster government’s claim it would “fix” social care, it doesn’t have the solutions, or the genuine political will, to deliver the service that’s needed.

And if we needed any reminding of how the current government disregards the care sector and its workforce, we got news yesterday that they are planning to half the investment in the social care workforce which they announced in 2021. Social care now needs to moved to the front of the queue, not shifted to the back.

It’s time for change. Social care should become part of a nationally recognised institution, as respected as the NHS. It should not be run for profit, but to provide world-class, high quality social care for those who need it. Older people, disabled people and those in need of reablement services deserve to have their needs put first, not those of shareholders.

UNISON is the largest union in the care sector, and we have a responsibility to push for this progressive and radical change. That’s why over the next 18 months and beyond, UNISON will be intensifying our campaign for England to have a National Care Service.

We want to see a National Care Service that:

  • gives access to quality care for all who need it;
  • is focussed on providing world-class social care, not delivering profits for shareholders;
  • has national pay, terms and conditions for all care workers and a proper workforce plan;
  • has the long-term and adequate funding for a high-quality care service;
  • includes an emergency pay boost for all care workers, helping to end the staffing crisis.

Social care is a devolved policy area. Reform, and moves towards a National Care Service model, are at different stages in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. UNISON is campaigning hard for root and branch reform in all nations of the UK. So, although this campaign is focussed on England, we are on the front foot on this issue across the UK.

Over the coming months there will be lots of ways for UNISON members working in social care to get involved in the campaign and push for the change we all so desperately want to see.

We have listened to our members and heard the voices of all those who rely on social care. Make no mistake, we will do everything in our power to make this happen.

Find out more about the campaign here