The Socialist 17 January 2018 |
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Opinion: foster care is work - carers deserve workers' rights
Children, photo USAF/Jared Duhon/CC (Click to enlarge)
Ian Groeber, Plymouth Socialist Party
Sarah Anderson issued a claim to an employment tribunal against Hampshire County Council on 9 October challenging their position that foster carers are not workers. Sarah is a foster carer and chair of the foster workers' branch of the IWGB union.
Reminiscent of the recent battles at Uber and Deliveroo, there is contention over the definition of "worker" - and therefore entitlement to paid leave, sick pay, or even a notice period.
Some foster placements end up not being tenable. Councils can remove a young person from their placement if there are problems, sometimes overnight.
Payment to the foster carer will also stop at this point. Imagine being reliant on that income and then finding yourself without it at such short notice, despite the sacrifices you've made.
Many foster carers cannot maintain a day job if they have a challenging young person to care for, and so rely wholly on that income.
The Court of Appeal has stated previously that foster care agreements with councils aren't contracts because they are set out in law, not freely entered into and negotiated by carers and councils.
This is what Sarah is challenging: that she is indeed a worker for the council, and as such should be entitled to the rights of any other employee.
Foster carers have to undertake a 15 to 20-week assessment in which their lifestyle, home and relationships are examined by an independent assessor.
They receive a weekly allowance ranging from £150 to £500 per child to cover care costs. They will usually (but not always) receive a fee alongside this to compensate them for their work.
Over 65,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families in the UK, according to the Fostering Network.
That's a sizeable population seen as not "working" - despite sacrificing their time, finances, accommodation, and emotional energy to support vulnerable children on behalf of councils.
And these fostering households are scrutinised - rightly - on their time and ability to care for young people under the responsibility of the council's social services.
Tens of thousands of people are paid for this by their council. And yet they are deemed not to be workers for the council!
Socialists support all workers fighting to improve their conditions, striving for a better quality of life. However, pro-capitalist councillors will try to frame this situation as a dilemma.
If we support foster carers' claim to workers' rights and entitlements, they will say, councils would struggle to fund it.
Austerity pits worker against worker, expecting us to choose between improving working conditions here or funding other services there.
But there is another option: councils can fight to win the funds. By using their reserves and prudential borrowing powers, they can end austerity today while fighting to win the necessary funding from the weak Tory government.
Foster carers, who directly support some of the most struggling and disadvantaged children, should be recognised for their work.
Socialists should demand an end to all public service cuts, full recognition of foster carers as workers, and a living wage for all.