Dan Smart, Bristol North Socialist Party
As huge numbers of exhausted staff quit the social care sector, “a tsunami of unmet need” is faced this winter. The Care Quality Commission’s dire warning predicts that, if nothing is done, 170,000 vacancies are to be expected by the end of the year. This figure doesn’t include those forced out by the mandatory vaccination policy coming into effect this month.
This will mean people being left without support at home – at risk of neglect, serious injury or worse. As a social worker, I currently have several people on my caseload who have been waiting for a care provider for months, despite being assessed as having multiple needs.
This latest crisis also has major implications for the NHS. Social care should address problems before they escalate to a person requiring hospital treatment, and enable people to be discharged safely from hospital, freeing up resources. With the unavailability of care, people will either remain in NHS beds or – as has frequently occurred during Covid – be sent home without adequate support, creating a vicious circle.
The government’s knee-jerk response has been to announce a ‘workforce retention and recruitment fund’, amounting to a pathetic £108 per care worker. There’s no clear explanation as to how this money is intended to attract new staff. And while attempting to argue that it will help retain staff, the government’s main argument for creating more ‘hours in the system’ is to give burnt-out carers more work by paying for overtime!
Common issues across sectors that face workforce shortages are tough work, with poor conditions and low pay. The GMB union is absolutely right that care workers need a minimum of £15 an hour, an end to zero-hour contracts and proper sick pay now, or they “will continue to leave and the sector will implode”. The GMB, along with other unions in the sector, must be at the forefront of fighting for the funding needed.
It is also necessary for the unions to put forward the need to take the private providers, who now constitute the vast majority of social care services, back in-house under democratic public ownership – making care provision accountable to workers, service-users and communities. We need to end the unfettered profit motive in social care that siphons out money at the expense of overworked, underpaid staff and the quality and availability of care for those who urgently need it.