Social care is for people, not profit
All of us are likely to need care at some point in our lives. Old age. Illness. Disability. You and your family may need to rely on carers, whether in your own home or in a care home.
Caring is a hugely important job. Calling in on vulnerable people, helping them wash and dress, cleaning and tidying, giving them medicine, preparing their meals, keeping them company. As a care worker, you might be the only person they see all day.
People's lives are damaged by cuts and privatisation of care - carers feeling stressed and rushed, older people feeling lonely and uncared for. We need to start putting people first, not profit.
In the last 20 years, care work and care homes have been privatised while council budgets have been slashed. The vast majority of both home care and residential care in England is now provided by private companies. (It used to be the opposite, with 95% of care at home being provided by councils in 1993.)
Privatisation hasn't worked. Two-thirds of adult social care workers say the quality of adult care has dropped because of large-scale outsourcing since the early 1990s. 1 in 4 home care services are failing to meet quality and safety standards.
"Both the quality of care in adult social care and the terms and conditions of the workforce have declined over the past two decades as a result of privatisation...Turnover rates are higher, and rates of pay considerably lower, in the private care sector than in the public sector."
(The failure of privatised adult social care in England: what is to be done?, Centre for Health and the Public Interest, November 2016)
Time for a cup of tea?
Care workers are responsible for taking care of older and vulnerable people in their homes - but they're under a lot of pressure.
Care workers are rushed. They barely have time to take their coats off and make a cup of tea for the person they're looking after. With visits of 15 minutes and packed schedules, they have to choose between leaving their clients in a bad state or staying on, unpaid, in their own time.
Private care workers don't get paid enough. Up to 220,000 care workers are paid less than the national minimum wage, often because they are not paid for travel time. These carers are mostly women and many are migrants.
Private care workers are more likely to be on a 'zero hours' contracts. 1 in 7 care workers are on contracts that don’t guarantee any work.
“A lot of the people I care for are old and lonely, they are not only in need of physical support, but they are also in need of company and someone to talk to. The times given to these people are the bare minimum to get the job done, no time for a chat, just in and out.”
“I enjoy my job very much but the private companies are making you feel like you don’t want to do the job anymore.”
“It’s far too rushed now...I worry I will miss something by not having the time to listen to what my elderly ladies say. They don’t think at the same pace as we do and often forget. In the past, by taking the time to listen I’ve discovered care needs that would otherwise have been missed.”
('Time to care', UNISON, October 2012)
Gambling on care homes
Many care home providers are large chains, backed by private equity and relying on risky financial structures. If they collapse, as Southern Cross did in 2011, the consequences for the people living there are damaging.
380 care home businesses have been declared insolvent since 2010, leading Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to commit to bringing failed care homes into public ownership.
Really caring means putting people first
By 2040 almost one in four of us will be over 65. What kind of future do we want for care work?
UNISON's Ethical Care Charter spells out some key standards that local authorities should meet when they agree care contracts - you can write to your councillors to ask them to sign it.
Ultimately, we need to reverse privatisation. Care homes can be brought into public ownership. Councils can employ care workers directly and make sure they have decent terms and conditions. Public ownership would mean spending a bit more on staff to give them enough time to care for people. We all deserve that. But it would also mean saving money on:
- Shareholder profits. Private care providers expect a profit margin of 12% - we could cut that out altogether.
- Private company executive salaries. Chairman of Mears home care company Bob Holt took home £350,000 in salary, pension and other benefits in 2015.
- Procurement costs and picking up the pieces when things go wrong.
Most importantly, caring for people properly is about having a civilised society where everyone is treated with dignity. Don't we all want that?
Share this page if you believe in caring for people, not profit.
Photo credit: CQC Press Office