“A National Care Service would treat staff fairly”
Public service workers in UNISON Cymru Wales are driving the future of social care.
The Welsh delegation to UNISON’s National Delegate Conference (NDC), our annual parliament, were buzzing from their activities promoting a National Care Service.
Passionate contributions from Welsh care workers, health care workers and local government workers, made history by ensuring conference passed a Cymru Wales motion for the first time: Radical change in social care in Wales can influence the whole of the UK. Read the successful motion via this link.
We caught up with some of the speakers, convenor Jan Tomlinson, Denise Thomas, Lianne Dallimore and Peter Garland to hear what they thought, as well as our lead officer for social care, Mark Turner.
Jan, conference passing a Cymru Wales motion felt momentous?
“That’s exactly the word! It was ‘Welsh Wednesday’! Passing our social care motion was the rest of UNISON in the UK applauding the good work going on in Wales, driven by UNISON care workers and staff.
“We had speaker after speaker lining up from Wales and as convenor I felt like a proud mother! And for the first time ever, we had a speaker in the Welsh language at conference, which was really important and sets us up for the future.
“I want to congratulate Martin Chapman, Denise Thomas, Sarah Taylor, John Jones, Pat Jones, Mia Hollsing, Peter Garland and Sam Alkarnaz for being brave enough to get up in front of thousands of delegates as well as Mark Fisher responding on behalf of the National Executive Committee. We then held a brilliant fringe meeting chaired by Lianne Dallimore and to top it all, the Morning Star wrote it all up for the next day. Read the Morning Star story via this link.
“Care isn’t properly funded and thousands of female care workers are trapped in poverty, even though they are working as hard as they can. Care workers are crucial, they are never “only” a care worker. Never!
“Our motion said no more outsourcing, no more money disappearing as private profit. We need every penny reinvested in care provision and in care workers. Now we’ve won support for investigations to ‘follow the money’ in care as it is drained off by big business or is wasted in commissioning. We’ll be able to demonstrate to Welsh government and others, how morally unacceptable that is. Read Jan’s speech to Conference via this link.
“I’m a healthcare worker and I know a National Care Service would mean people getting the care they need nearer their own home, so they are not kept in hospital longer than they must be and become institutionalised and lose their independence. Instead, they would be respected as an individual and their needs are met.”
Denise, you’re a care worker, what did you talk about in your speech?
“I wanted to get across that social care workers haven’t been heard. We’re taken for granted because we see our job as a vocation and many of us struggle to make ends meet. Now it’s got to the extent people can’t sustain working in the sector, they’re disgruntled with the wages and they jump employers or go looking for work at Aldi which is better paying. So staff turnover is high, but you need stability to provide the best service.
“We could provide even better support to the most vulnerable if we had an integrated care service, no question about it. Under a National Care Service everyone would be treated fairly with decent wages and employment conditions.
“We are branded as “support workers”, but we give medication, controlled drugs and peg-feeding intense care. When NHS colleagues do that, it’s recognised in their pay.
“At the moment, there are hundreds of different care organisations paying different wages for doing the same job and sleep-in rates can vary dramatically too, for instance, from £45 to £65 per shift. If organisations receive the same funding for providing care, why isn’t the sleep-in rate the same?
“Under a National Care Service, workers’ employment conditions would be the same and all support workers would be on the same money. You can’t do social care ‘on the cheap’. Ultimately, more investment has to go into social care to benefit us as care workers and the people we look after.”
Peter, you’re the chair of the UNISON Cymru Wales Social Care Forum, what was the key message you were trying to get across in your speech?
“Care workers are always said to be the most important resource of any care organisation. But the reality is most of those staff are paid the lowest rates of pay companies can legally get away with, even to the point where UNISON has had to force companies to pay the real living wage supplement funded by Welsh Labour.
“Time and time again we see the money for social care being syphoned out of the care sector and out of Wales to faceless corporations and shareholders. Social care is being asset stripped and our care workers and the most vulnerable in our society are paying the price.
“We need a National Care Service where our care workers are recognised as the professionals they are and are paid appropriately for their skills and hard work.”
Lianne, Cymru Wales held a joint fringe event at NDC with colleagues from England and Scotland, what did you learn?
“It was a really positive day and a good, well-attended fringe event. It showed how important to people social care is and that people want change and they want a National Care Service.
“A National Care Service shouldn’t just be Wales only, but UK wide, and us sharing our experiences from all the different nations can help build that. But we learned that achieving progress elsewhere is hard and that Wales is on a different page in terms of how other governments have responded. What the Scottish SNP government means by a National Care Service is different to what the Welsh Labour government means.
“A National Care Service is important to me as a local government worker because it keeps public services where they should be. It means care workers would be on good conditions and fair pay. The worst thing would be to push a National Care Service and still use the private sector. The public sector is about delivering quality public services, not profits.
“Our motion and fringe event demonstrates how active Wales is in pushing the social care agenda and leading the way. 75 years ago, the NHS came into being, with Nye Bevan. Now Wales is again leading the way with social care and we’re not afraid to run with it!”
We asked Mark Turner, our lead officer for social care, where we go from here?
“It’s becoming clear that the 20-year experiment of using for profit, private sector companies to deliver care has failed. It was always a system designed to exploit a mainly women workforce, gradually break up the previously well organised trades union presence amongst care workers and drive, pay, conditions and dignity down in a never-ending race to the bottom. But ultimately care can only really be delivered by skilled, professional, competent and caring human beings and if you keep demanding more and giving them less you end up with the crisis we have now. The crisis in care is the crisis of exploitation of the workforce.
“Going forward we will lobby commissioners in Wales to make sure they only award commissions to providers who offer Fair Work, including recognising trades unions and allowing their workers a voice. That would be a start. But ultimately, we must end the idea of hedge funds and property speculators that the public finances are an easy cash cow and rid the system of profit at the expense of the vulnerable and the wonderful care workers they rely on. No to profit in care!”