‘Nearly at the finish line in the race to the bottom’

Community conference vows to fight for members in ‘very challenging times’

“A race to the bottom? We’re close to the finish line,” delegates at UNISON’s community conference heard as they discussed the state of the sector, and how best to defend it and the UNISON members who work in it.

Meeting in Bournemouth this weekend, representatives of UNISON’s third largest service group heard Francis O’Ryan of Gloucester declare: “It’s been going on for years.

Speaking just of his own experience in adult social care, he told conference: “It’s absolutely disastrous out there,” as council budgets are cut by government.

And that means “our members’ salaries have been cut, their terms and conditions have been devastated”.

And David Mills, speaking on behalf of the national disabled members’ committee, told delegates of his experience, where “providers now have volunteers providing support.”

More than that, he said, “students, who are supposed to be there to learn from us, are actually providing the service we’re contracted to provide.”

The impact of underfunding on services provided by both the community and voluntary sector and the housing sector, and on the health and welfare of those working to deliver those services, make it more important than ever that the union work hard to organise an often fragmented and isolated workforce, conference declared.

Service group executive chair Kevin Jackson noted, when introducing the annual report: “2016 was another challenging year.”

On the bright side, “our membership numbers remained fairly consistent over the year,” but this was as “TUPE transfers saw hundreds of thousands of members move in and out of the service group.”

But whatever the challenges, he said, UNISON “UNISON will fight to get the best outcomes for our members.”

Not that anyone is expecting the issues facing the sector, our members or the services they provide to get any easier. As David Mills of the national disabled members told conference: “These are ‘interesting’ and very challenging times for our service group.”