Social care has been the poorer cousin of the NHS for too long. Yesterday, the government finally acknowledged this in its plan to tackle coronavirus in social care settings , promising more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), an expansion of testing and... a badge.
Pitched by the Health Secretary as a symbol to recognise social care workers in the same way we recognise frontline NHS workers , the new CARE badges offer little more than a rebrand to a sector that has long been crippled by cuts, staff shortages, low and stagnant pay and in which 82 per cent of the workforce are women .
With coronavirus sweeping through social care with devastating results , meaningful action for the sector has never been more important. Here are some ideas for the Secretary of State to ensure all social care workers get the “recognition and benefits” they deserve in the immediate and long term (spoiler: it’s more than a badge).
As we highlighted in a joint statement with unions and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services today, a critical lack of PPE for social care workers is putting both staff and those they care for at unnecessary risk of exposure.
This isn’t a problem found just in social care . The government must publish a national procurement and distribution strategy for PPE, so that care homes and social care providers aren’t left to source their own PPE amidst global shortages and inflated prices. Participating in joint procurement through the EU will be crucial to this.
The benefits of testing to help tackle the virus are clear – it allows social care workers to know when it is or isn’t safe for them to be at work, which is crucial given that the people they work with are often more vulnerable to catching and dying from covid-19.
So its welcome that the government have said all care workers and residents who need it will have access to testing. But the government have repeatedly failed to live up to their promises to expand testing. Without a clear deadline for when testing will be rolled out in social care, this new commitment risks being meaningless.
The same goes for the rapid discharging of covid-19 patients to care homes , which must be halted until there are key checks in place about safety, including testing.
The nature of their work means that care workers are likely to need to take time off sick or to self-isolate during the pandemic. Yet most care workers only qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP), which comes in at a measly £95.85 a week. Those who earn below £118 a week do not even qualify for that.
Without adequate financial support to live on, too many social care workers will continue to work even when they are ill so they can support their families. This puts themselves, those they care for and their own families at huge risk.
Social care workers should never have to choose between working and keeping their families safe. The government must raise the SSP rate and remove the lower earnings limit immediately.
Being treated the same as NHS frontline staff doesn’t come from a PR rebrand, but from investment in training and formal skills accreditation to enable proper career progression, and a pay and grading structure to fairly reward these complex skills.
The government needs to work with unions, employers and providers to develop a proper workforce strategy that supports standards, productivity and workforce development. This is how to ensure workers are valued - and paid - at the level of other comparable public services.
We have previously outlined what the social care sector needs to ensure better quality care, better value for money and a fairer deal for the near 1.5 million strong workforce. As well as essential recognition of skills, better pay and stamping out insecure contracts, the government must deliver its manifesto commitment of proper, long-term funding for social care sector to offset the damage done by cuts to essential services and austerity.
The way social care is delivered is broken. Decades of outsourcing means the market is hugely fragmented, with local authorities currently commissioning to over 20,000 different providers. This drives down costs below sustainable levels, encourages short-term contacts that may not deliver the care a person needs and removes democratic accountability. The last is key because, until government feels that the public holds them to account for the state of the care sector, as they do the NHS, parity of esteem will remain out of reach.
More than ever before, we see that adult social care is an essential public service just as important as the NHS. But we think it will take a bit more than a badge and a rebrand to give the sector – and those who run it - the true recognition they deserve.
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