Care homes abuse scandals

For-profit companies don’t care

Frankie Langeland

Yet another exposé into the abuse of elderly people hit the headlines. BBC’s Panorama broadcast the latest in a string of shocking video evidence of direct abuse and neglect within care homes. During the same week the Care Quality Commission announced that 406 homes, housing almost 16,000 people, were failing to meet essential care standards, the bare minimum expected by law.

These findings are shocking. The social care sector serves people from all walks of life when they are at their most vulnerable. By 2025 a third of Britain’s population will be over 55 years. This will pile pressure onto a system which has very weak foundations.

The rapid expansion of the private care system has put profits before people. Ten thousand different private care providers make up 90% of Britain’s care services.

From working in this sector I have seen pay rapidly decrease in the past decade to the minimum wage, and training is often now a DVD you have to watch while doing your other duties.

Zero-hour contracts have increased the instability that workers feel. 41% of homecare workers are employed on zero-hour contracts and 307,000 care workers are employed overall on a zero-hour basis.

A lack of training, job security and chance to develop an understanding of service users’ needs creates a breeding ground for abuse. The private health and social care market is worth £40 billion. If these homes were nationalised this money could be put back into the system and spent on properly trained and well-paid staff, who could be supported in what is undoubtedly a challenging job.

The reports in the media undoubtedly show abuse by individuals that is unacceptable and must be challenged. But beyond the abuse by individual care workers, we see institutional abuse through deliberate understaffing from the companies which sees people in care waiting for basic needs such as dressing, feeding, and toileting and drinking.

Bedrooms are built to be small so more can be fitted in, increasing profits but meaning that specialist equipment such as hoists and wheelchairs do not fit or making tasks dangerous to carry out for users and workers. A lack of choice at meal times to save costs or of meaningful activities means a poor quality of life for care home residents.

The root cause of abuse comes from the profit-driven capitalist system. We live in a time where we know more about care needs and health than at any other point in history, but the privatisation of care means this knowledge is not used to make improvements to the quality of life for service users as they are seen as too costly.

The money for a fully funded social care sector is there, but it’s hoarded by the multi-millionaired ‘1%’ rather than spent on the people who need it.

Workers employed by Care UK in Doncaster are taking strike action against imposed changes to their contracts resulting in wage cuts of thousands of pounds a year.

At a protest lobby of local MP Ed Miliband on 30 April, striker Roger Hutt summed up their battle:

“A hard working professional caring group of people will have to leave their chosen professions due to the crumbs Care UK are willing to pay us, to be replaced by unskilled, inexperienced individuals. We feel this will lead to future incidents of malpractice, neglect and God forbid, even fatalities.”