Thursday at 8pm the nation turns out to clap in appreciation at the work our essential public sector workers who each day place the interests and safety of our most vulnerable citizens ahead of their own.
You will find no more obvious example of selfless public service than that shown by workers in 1000’s of residential care homes across the UK.
Residential care homes are never a destination of choice, but they represent an important part of the post war welfare state, cradle to grave social security which promised everyone, regardless of wealth, a set of basic entitlements in life.
Living with support and dignity when you reach a point in life when you cannot maintain that for yourself is as important as a clean safe birth, the NHS, a warm dry house and access to education. But 10 years of austerity and 30 years of failed public service reforms have left the residential care sector in the grasp of a cabal of profit-making companies the very worst of whom place the interests of residents and staff secondary to the bottom line of their balance sheet.
Staff once had a decent rate for the job, never well paid, always undervalued, but a rate they felt recognised their important contribution. With a pension, decent holidays, sick pay and add–ons for night work and weekends the job provided a living wage. Almost all of them were unionised workers. Great working class women, proud of their service, proud of their communities and proud of their union.
This seems a dim and distant dream for today’s care workers. Urban myths of halcyon days are now recounted only by the older carers over a cuppa. As privatisation took hold union membership fell, decent pensions disappeared along with the sick pay, premium pay and the rate for the job. The minimum wage, insecure contracts and bargain basement conditions are the new norm for the people we rely on in our time of need.
Take the example of care workers employed by Leicestershire County Care Ltd a subsidiary company of the bigger Johnson Care Group. This week the company announced a package of cuts which will see some workers losing 30% of their weekly wages, holiday entitlement cut by two weeks, axing occupational sick pay and reducing to the statutory floor for adoption, paternity and adoption leave.
The company which made accumulated profits of £4.8m last year claim the cuts are necessary because costs of face masks and gloves have increased, and with new admissions are on hold revenue streams have reduced. For the owners and their financier’s the solution is predictable, protect profits, make staff pay through cuts to wages and conditions.
The sector is broken, privatisation has failed, as we emerge from the crisis now is the time to construct a better system that works in the interests of our common good. UNISON is the care workers union we will be at the forefront of the debate, helping to create a system of public services that are once more run for the common good not the good of greedy owner and the financiers. Join us and let’s come together and work for a fair future.
Blog post by Chris Jenkinson, Regional Secretary