Care dominates debate at national delegate conference

What’s happening with adult social care in England and the devolved nations, provided a comprehensive debate on day two of national delegate conference

Rosie MacGregor moving a motion on care at NDC 2023, Liverpool

UNISON’s national delegate conference turned its focus to care on Wednesday morning with a set of motions on the issue.

Moving the first, on the social care crisis, Rosie MacGregor (above) of the retired members forum told delegates: “It isn’t the first time we’ve considered the need for reform of adult social care – but despite our active campaigning and the meaningless promises from the government, nothing, nothing has changed.”

She went on to highlight the dual failings of the system, both for the service users and the workers who provide care. Asking delegates: “Is it any wonder that many leave the profession due to poor working conditions and inadequate pay. We must continue to campaign for a society where care workers are fairly treated.”

One delegate, who had worked in care for 20 years gave an emotional speech in which she told the story of a man she had worked with, who decided to work in a residential as the consistent hours would allow him to spend more time with his young family.

“Three weeks later,” she said, “He was dead. COVID ripped through his care home. And for what? Minimum wage and zero-hours contracts? That’s not just unfair, its criminal. And all the while the private companies lay back and roll around in the profits.”

Another speaker told conference of their adult autistic son and the effect it had on his family when his son was placed in a residential care home over 100 miles away from where they lived. He said that every time they visited, he was being cared for by a different care worker “there was no consistency.”

He left delegates with the message: “You cannot put a price on an individual’s quality of life.”

The motion reasserted UNISON’s support for a national care service to bring about consistent standards of care and consistent terms and conditions for the workforce. Speakers noted the work of the union in commissioning the recent Fabian Society report – Support Guaranteed.

Delegates credited the report with outlining the roadmap and the building blocks required to create such a service but were quick to add that simply the idea of a national care service wasn’t enough.

Speakers in further care debates in the morning, told of the stark difference in approach from the Welsh and Scottish governments. Conference heard how, in Scotland, the government’s plans, though a ‘national care service’ in name, amount to little more than a charter for private companies.

Tony Slaven said: “The Scottish government are promoting something they call a national care service and make the comparison to the NHS.” But he argued that the government’s plans to create ’a vibrant market of care’, was just another way to privatise the sector.

He said that for private companies, “The people who need the service are cash cows to be milked and the people who provide the service are a cost to be squeezed.”

The motion argued that Scotland’s situation demonstrates that it is not enough to assume that all stakeholders share our principles and values for a national care service.

Speaking to that point Mark Chiverton called for UNISON to work for a national care service to be a “properly democratic organisation. Accountable to local representatives and accountable to the workforce.”

Jan Tomlinson of Cymru/Wales carecarecaremoved a motion which highlighted the positive work currently being done under a Labour government in Wales, under a tripartite approach (employers, unions and governments working together), telling delegates: “Each nation can learn from our experience in Wales and how we have been driving change.”

Highlighting the union’s work she said: “Progress hasn’t happened by accident – when UNISON started campaigning for a national care service in Wales in 2021, no-one was talking about it,”

She asked delegates to go back to their branches to speak to their members and “tell them – if Wales can do it, so can we.”

To round off the morning of debate on the subject, a conference fringe event – campaigning for a national care service – saw a panel of stakeholders and experts discuss the current approaches of the Scottish and Welsh governments, in detail.

The panel, and delegates, then examined how the lessons learnt from those can be applied to UNISON’s campaign, Make Care Work, to create a positive vision for the service.