Covid-19 has exposed the utter catastrophe that is privatised social care. Private ownership has delivered a broken chaotic mess, exploiting service-users and workers to enrich the owners.
There are over 1000 social care providers in England, competing for business. The resulting race to the bottom is just like other sectors of the economy: rock-bottom wages, abhorrent working conditions, inflated prices, and often disastrous results in terms of the ‘care’ provided. That was before coronavirus.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen company owners force their workers into work. We’ve seen workers doing their best to provide care in homes which are not safe for residents or workers. We’ve seen how things could be done differently. On the Wirral, in Merseyside, the Unison union branch which organisers care-workers won the living wage for workers employed in care companies contracted by the council. Better wages for care workers are a first step to breaking the grip of casualisation which forces workers into unsafe working conditions and devalues the service they provid
In Salford, Greater Manchester, a far-reaching agreement won by the Unison branch there ensures, as branch secretary Steve North explained, “full sick pay for those who have to self-isolate and shield, Salford care workers have also won full pay for carers’ leave, the offer of temporary accommodation to avoid spreading the virus to their own families, guaranteed PPE, an end to working across multiple care homes and limits on public transport use. These measures will protect the whole community in Salford and will help slow the spread of the virus.” See here for an interview with Steve about how this and other gains for public service workers in the city were won by a campaigning socialist-led union branch.
Left to the employers though, it will get even worse. In Leicestershire, bosses of one care provider in April issued new sign-or-be-sacked contracts to 98 employees which mean a pay cut of up to 30%, two weeks less holiday, no sick pay and no maternity benefits. This system is sick.
Social care used to be a public service. Since it was contracted out, capitalism has bled it dry. We say: make social care public! All social care services, workers and resources should be brought into public ownership. Compensation should be paid to the ex-owners only on the basis of their proven need, and fat-cats shouldn’t get a penny. Workers should receive immediate pay rises to give them parity with their equivalents in councils and the NHS, and the same conditions of employment. Through democratic planning with workers and service users having decisive control, social care could be reorganised with massively increased funding to meet the huge unmet need for the service.
This would transform lives but we need to go further. The NHS is still mainly public but is leeched upon by financial institutions, big pharma, private suppliers, agencies, construction companies and so on. Every penny wasted on these scavengers is a penny which didn’t go towards saving someone’s life. We need a break with this profiteering system. By taking the 100 or so big companies which dominate the British economy into public ownership, along with others where necessary such as in social care, all the resources and talent would be available for a democratic socialist plan to meet people’s needs with full accountability and transparency.