Coronavirus hasn’t broken our care home system. The system was broken and not fit for the purposes of providing an essential public service. What the needless loss of life in care homes has done is made an already existing crisis too obvious to ignore.
The care home system we have is complicated, fractured and largely driven by the profit motive. It needs to go and we need start moving towards a national care system, where care will be about people, not profit. Delivered through public and not for profit providers and facilities.
Over half of Scotland’s care homes are run directly for profit – often by big businesses who base themselves in tax havens. People expect public money to be spent providing care in their communities – not to be funnelled into offshore bank accounts.
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This stealthy privatisation of social care has compromised safety, undermined training standards, driven down working conditions and caused a massive staff shortage. After Covid19, every penny of social care funding must stay in our care system for the benefit of residents and service users. A national care service can’t be created overnight. The absurd system we have of private contracting makes sure of that.
We can start working towards it though. The Scottish Government could ensure national bargaining for the care sector. This could insist on at least the Scottish Living Wage. We would argue £10 per hour, for all staff, with proper sick pay and shift allowances. This could help tackle the appalling staff shortages and turnover in the sector.
Providing care shouldn’t be dangerous for staff or residents. We need a national care service to ensure investment in training. That way care staff can provide NHS levels of infection control. With PPE for everyone when required.
There is a need for a simpler system. In the current care market there are over 1,000 employers and providers involved in providing care across thousands of establishments. That makes imposing standards and protections far more difficult than it should be.
Just now many care home staff are kept on zero hours contracts with no sick pay agreements. This creates a situation where people have to decide between going into work when they might be ill, or feeding their families.
The dangers of this during the pandemic are obvious and UNISON pointed them out. The Scottish Government agreed to act on April 12th – but the scheme ensuring all care workers will get sick pay only started working yesterday. Even in the face of lives being lost it has taken the current system over two months to provide this safety measure.
Scotland must replace glossy Fair Work pledges with robust and enforceable Fair Work standards. Negotiated and agreed nationally by employers and employees with both eyes focused on care quality. That is UNISON’s vision for care after covid.
Mike Kirby is Scottish Secretary of the UNISON trade union