‘Get angry – then get organised’ to defend social care

UNISON local government conference hears rallying call in the fight to defend and promote social care

A major debate on social care saw delegate after delegate to UNISON’s local government conference relate how employers exploit carers, to the detriment of both the carers themselves and the vulnerable people who rely on the service they provide.

Proposing the second motion at this year’s conference in Liverpool, Glen Williams for the service group executive spoke of the “national scandal” that is a social care system being ‘ripped off’ in order that private companies can profit.

Taking to the rostrum was Mandy Buckley (pictured above, speaking). A care worker herself, she is also the rep for the Birmingham care workers who recently won their fights against the council’s plan to cut their hours and pay.

Ms Buckley told the hall: “we had our victory … but if the carers did not stand together, we would probably not be here today.

“I’m urging people to get out there, get organised,” she stressed, adding that “all care workers are low paid: care needs to be valued; care needs to be publicised” and “all care services need to be brought back in house.

Christine Colin from Bolton – who works in a care home herself – highlighted how care workers are treated.

“I’m proud of the level of care we give,” she said, noting that she and her colleagues worked to provide a level of service that they would consider appropriate for their own families.

But she continued by saying that private employers in particular exploit that dedication to pay workers below the national minimum wage – not least by relying on them to work longer time (unpaid) to ensure that the proper care is given.

Ms Colin observed that all employers should sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, which commits them to treat carers to a minimum set of standards. These in turn benefit those needing care – such as by stopping the practice of insisting that any care visit is a maximum of 15 minutes long, irrespective of need.

She had become involved in the union when the employer tried to attack staff breaks: with UNISON’s help, “we took on the bosses … and …. a few weeks later, we won our case as the company backed down”.

Jim McFarlane from Dundee City told delegates that, “for far too long, social care and social care workers have been undervalued and under-funded.

“It’s not good enough that far too many social care workers don’t get paid for travel time, are made to pay for their own uniforms by some companies and only get three minutes for a visit”.

He reported that, in Dundee, the council had been considering imposing a split-shift system on staff. First of all, staff ‘got angry – and then they got organised’.

Two hours after announcing a consultative ballot, the employer withdrew the plans.

The motion was carried unanimously and instructed the executive to work on a number of fronts, including:

  • promoting further take up of the Ethical Care Charter;
  • carrying out research to uncover where money goes in the UK’s “largely-privatised care system”;
  • continue to force all involved to to pay at least the national minimum wage;
  • support care workers who are EU nationals in their fight for the right to continue to work in the sector in the UK after Brexit.