A fair deal for our care workers

The nation’s care workers are getting a raw deal and have been for some years now. This has been highlighted by many including our own party’s Health and Social Care Working Group. In ten years overseeing the care of someone in need of help I saw at first hand the reality of life for those at the sharp end. What I witnessed was nothing short of a scandal.

Workers paid just the minimum wage, expected to do extradinarily long shifts which took no account of working time regulations, travel time unpaid, breaks if they actually had them spent doing paperwork and a chronic lack of the right equipment to do their job.

This is bad enough but the private care companies employing these workers were doing it on contract in a town which in my case was run by a Labour council. A council that had no interest in addressing the abuses that I highlighted to them. The unions were no better, Unison the union for care workers seemed content to remain in their comfort zone representing those directly employed by the local authority at the same time enjoying a cosy relationship with the Labour leadership. I never witnessed any attempt by Unison to recruit let alone organise the care workers employed by private companies.

We simply can’t trust Labour on this and hell will freeze over before the Tories do anything to help working people. As Liberals with a proud history of fighting for workers, whether they are in a union or not, we can come up with proposals to improve things in the care sector. Personally, I would like to see the profit motive taken out of care with the creation of a National Health and Care Service where all people working in the organisation including care workers are directly employed by the state – a return to the position that existed before Thatcher privatised care in 1989.

I do however recognise that this is a major change, and it might be a bit to radical for some, but Governments can regulate pay and conditions in the private sector, the Agricultural Wages Board, which existed long before the introduction of the national minimum wage, being a good example. Similarly, the body for those currently employed in the prison service. I would like to see something like that for the care industry.

Some might say this task could be performed by the existing regulator the Care Quality Commission but sadly they have proved to be a total failure as an inspectorate, being most famous for having given good quality ratings to establishments that have been exposed by undercover media investigators as seriously failing the vulnerable people they are supposed to be looking after.

So how about it? A Care Workers Pay and Conditions body supported by inspectors that sets national standards for all those working in the industry. Looking after the care workers is the right thing to do and also means the vulnerable people they look after will have better lives too.

Let it be the Liberals who come to the rescue of this important group.

This article is dedicated to all the amazing home and residential care workers across the UK.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • It should be a cause for national embarrassment that the people who play such a crucial role in the physical and emotional well-being of some of the most isolated and vulnerable members of society are also the ones with some of the worst pay and conditions.

    A Conservative Government will never tackle this properly because they will never see a “return on investment” in spending money on making other people happier and more comfortable, or indeed on simply keeping them alive longer.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Apr '19 - 3:41pm

    David as ever a really good contributing to debate, from real experience.

    I first must express strong disagreement on the utilising of the private sector. I do have reservations and distrust of large multnational or international private companies, these are big business driven, by profit too often. Although even some of the larger companies, are actually not for profit. For example, it is ideological nonsense to object to the employing, by the NHS, of BUPA, who are not for profit, no shareholders .

    However, one sees it with understandable dismay at the sorts of companies that have too often become involved, Virgin, for example, the NHS, or local councils, need the supply provided , and the specialism, by the often smaller and indpendent, and very experienced private providers.

    Care homes can be very fine, family run and dignified. Similarly, freelance care providers in peoples homes, are often self employed, contracted via agencies.

    What is needed is mentioned in this otherwise sensible piece. Decent quality of care or service, well paid and appreciated.

    We must mention the elephant in the room for liberals. Immigrants are, despite some pretending otherwise, driving wages down, not the fault of the immigrants or of immigration, but due to their immediate lack of market clout or union representation, as David shows. The answer should be the second part of the , in my view , excellent union reforms, making unions not compulsory, which the Thatcher government rightly insisted in bringing in. While the closed shop, particularly, pre entry, was an afront to liberty, the closed off, to the availability of unionisation, is an afront to dignity. We should insistent that all workers in all sectors are allowed union membership, where the company, not the individual care home, employs more than a few. I believe that the unions alluded to in the direct public employment, probably do not want unionised private workers, as they deny and dislike, the obvious benefits of a social market, ie competition, of any kind.

    As many who lead progress have thought, what works is what counts. Too often, though, what counts , is what works, from the point of view of too many today, that sees only that money is what is being counted.

  • Ed Shepherd 1st Apr '19 - 6:27pm

    Margaret Thatcher did not abolish the closed shop. The closed shop still exists in many professions and it is extremely expensive and difficult to enter those closed shops. I think I am right in saying that Margaret Thatcher was a member of a closed shop (the Bar Council) throughout her working life. Care workers get a terrible deal but union membership will not solve many of their problems because employers do not have to recognise unions for bargaining purposes. Compulsory union recognition by employers might help the care workers.

  • Fear not the government will pass a law mandating care, that will solve all problems. Who needs resources when you can just pass a law. The first thing this government and all politicians should understand is “You get what you pay for”, if you “don’t pay” you don’t get simples.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Apr '19 - 1:16am

    Ed Shepherd

    While you are correct in certain professional bodies, in unions, the compulsion was abolished, I know, because the union I joined, Equity, was one of the last to fall, clinging to the hideous out dated rules, forced to give that up. Yes, to the right to have a union recognised , but not to the right of a person to not join one, being changed.

  • Ed Shepherd 2nd Apr '19 - 6:20am

    But a “professional body” is just a union for the wealthy. If someone wants to work in certain jobs hen it is compulsory to be a member of a very expensive union that keeps people from less wealthy backgrounds out. Anyone who opposes a closed shop should also oppose that kind of compulsion. Margaret Thatcher’s employment laws were trying to break working people not giving people freedom. Good that you agree that employers should recognise unions for bargaining purposes. Margaret Thatcher would not agree with that though!

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