Fragmented and fragile: it’s time to fix social care

New report argues that care workers are overlooked, undervalued and in desperate need of investment

Elderly woman with carer

This week the government All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Care released a report on the professionalisation of Social Care workers.

The report reiterates what UNISON has been saying for a number of years: that care workers are overlooked, undervalued and in desperate need of more government investment.

UNISON national officer Matthew Egan said: Some people think that care work is a job that anyone can do, and that it should be done for a pittance.

“There are a lot of gender assumptions behind that. In reality, care work is highly important and skilled work.

“We need to focus urgent attention on who is delivering social care, and why the conditions have become so bad for workers and the people who receive care, alike.”

UNISON has long expressed frustration that the government consistently de-prioritises social care. Since 2010, social care budgets have been cut by £7.7 billion. As a result, dysfunctional commissioning practices are now entrenched in the social care sector.

Price is the most dominant factor in decisions around care commissioning, with most councils failing to pay the minimum amount considered necessary to provide safe levels of care.

Estimates suggest that at least 160,000 social care workers in England are paid below the minimum wage and that care staff are collectively cheated of £130m each year in earnings.

One of the main reasons for this is the failure to pay care workers for their travel time between visits.

UNISON represents over 300,000 people working in social care, who are employed by local authorities, private companies, the community and voluntary sector, or directly by care users.

Matthew Egan continued: “There are over 20,000 different care providers in England alone. Some have as few as10 or 20 people working for them and they can vary wildly in the quality of training they provide to staff.

“One immediate solution to this issue would be to focus on professionalisation. We need to see the government introduce a new standardised training and career development framework and scaffolding that prioritises up-skilling – and that means investment.

“Eventually, UNISON would like to see all social care back in the public sector. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, but the failure of private companies to maintain quality standards for care users, and decent working conditions for care workers, shows that it’s time to bring care work back into public control.”