While we all know that austerity goals have saw massive cuts to services such as the NHS, the police and education there is one section of society largely forgotten – the people receiving local-authority funded social care.
These people don’t receive care through private, profit-making companies but through non-profit-making state-funded organisations where the funds come directly from local authorities, authorities who have had their budgets slashed year after year.
The people being looked after often require high-level, complex care packages with staff ratios of 1:1 or even 2:1. Their needs vary and are challenging – complex physical disabilities, varying learning disabilities that require expertise, real understanding and constant vigilance to prevent a crisis.
The effect of cuts on these organisations has been drastic. Staff wages have stagnated over the last 10 years, pay rises have ceased and senior posts are being phased out in an attempt to save cash. Rates of just over the living wage is now the norm.
Staff benefits such as double time on public holidays, or treble time on Christmas day are a thing of the past. Sick pay packages have been reduced to the legal minimum, despite care being a extremely stressful role with one of the highest rates of work-related stress absence.
Staff levels have been cut back to compensate for the cuts, meaning staff are stretched to their limits, often working over time without being duly compensated. Working 24 hour shifts with no breaks bar a few hours sleep is the norm, made worse by the fact it is at a rate of pay that falls drastically below the minimum wage.
The so called ‘sleep-in crisis’ has highlighted this fact after staff sought legal advice as to why they were paid on average £3.50 for 8 hours of work where they were often awake and tending to service user’s needs. Courts and the HMRC have ruled that this is illegal and that every hour of the 24 hour shifts are classed as ‘working time’ therefore workers should be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour.
Unfortunately the harsh truth is these care providers who rely solely on local authority funding simply cannot find the extra cash to do this, their budgets have been slashed so drastically over the years complying with this law could actually force closure of the support service altogether.
You won’t see these stories in the news as the social care staff simply can’t form a picket. They can’t go on strike like the McDonald’s workers and the Topshop cleaners and demand a decent wage. They would never abandon and risk harm to the people the support day in, day out.
No carer’s conscious would allow them to stand outside their place of work one morning (the home of the 5 service users they have supported for years) and refuse to go inside, refuse to get the hoist to help them out of bed before they became soiled. Refuse to support them to take sips of water. Refuse to give them the medication that stops them becoming seriously ill.
These carers know they can never rely on ‘agency staff’ which is often seen as a quick fix in many staffing crises. Local authority funded care providers can no longer afford the higher costs of agency staff and there is a real lack of these staffing solutions, meaning they are in higher demand and can charge more for their services.
Some service users would simply be so highly distressed being supported by a complete stranger, no carer would abandon them to this ordeal just to stand outside their home and shout – Hey I’m not being paid fairly! The carers know that it took the service user weeks to build up trust and feel comfortable around them, they know that the service user could lash out at people they are unfamiliar with, and could even then begin to hurt themselves when so distressed. The risk isn’t worth it.
Carers also have a conscience which is one of the reasons they should be listened to and their plight highlighted. Unfortunately putting their service users at risk is not going to gather much public sympathy, and relatives could be legitimately concerned as to how their child is going to be adequately supported without their usual team of 24/7 carers.
While carers have never been paid well and working conditions always a challenge, the cuts to these services over the years have seen this drastically take a turn for the worse. In some cases social care workers with over 15 years experience in the sector are leaving to work on the cashier tills at Tesco – it’s better pay and at least you get breaks.
Ultimately it’s the service users who lose out, high turnovers of overworked, underpaid but well experienced staff leaving to be replaced by people new to care – but who will no doubt leave soon too once they realise that you can earn more flipping burgers.