Opinion

Care staff are unlikely to strike but are equally deserving of a pay rise

Mike Padgham, Chair, Independent Care Group

Last month UNISON announced that staff at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) had voted to take strike action over pay. More than 700 workers were balloted by UNISON and of those who took part nearly three quarters voted to strike and 92% for action short of a strike, such as refusing overtime. In response to this, Mike Padgham, Chair of The Independent Care Group in North Yorkshire shares his views.

There would be a certain irony if we were to see industrial action by the Care Quality Commission; the body entrusted with regulating the sector and ensuring there is proper, uninterrupted quality care of the country’s most vulnerable.

I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that Care Quality Commission staff don’t deserve better pay and that I don’t respect their right to take industrial action in pursuit of that aim, but I am also very keen to see those less able or likely to withdraw their labour get better pay too.

The pay award recently announced for NHS staff is well deserved but it must be matched by a similar increase in pay to frontline social care staff who do much the same jobs. If it isn’t, then the gap between NHS staff and social care staff pay will grow even greater and it will become impossible to recruit into a sector that is already going through the worst staff shortages in its history, with 165,000 vacancies.

We can’t lose any more staff or the care of our residents and homecare clients will be further jeopardised.

It is unlikely that social care staff will strike because of the make-up of the sector but nevertheless they surely deserve the same pay rise as those who did walk out.

It seems very harsh, and unfair, to reward those who, understandably, exercised their democratic right to strike for better pay and not give similar reward to those who have not gone on strike but have continued to keep working and caring for the people they look after.

We all clapped on our doorsteps for NHS and care workers for their bravery side by side during the pandemic – it isn’t fair that one is now treated differently when it comes to pay.

After battling through the life-threatening and deeply distressing Covid-19 pandemic, if anyone deserves a proper pay increase it is social care staff who fought to keep the most vulnerable as safe as they could. But because there are dwindling resources within social care, providers will struggle to give an appropriate pay rise to staff who work extremely hard to give people the care they need, both in their own homes and in care and nursing homes.

The results of the Cost of Care Exercise have revealed a £2.88bn shortfall between Govt funding and the actual cost of delivering care during 2021-22. That translates to hundreds of pounds a week difference between what care and nursing homes are paid and the true cost of delivering care. Add to that the horrific increases in fuel and utility costs during the current cost of living crisis and you can see why care providers are struggling to survive, let alone pay their staff better. The net result of this is that care staff can get better pay doing other jobs and we currently have that huge vacancy figure in the sector, which is crippling the delivery of care.

That figure will only become greater if the growing disparity between NHS and social care pay is not addressed quickly.

I want to see the Government set a National Minimum Wage for social care on a par with NHS staff. Then the Government must increase funding to local authorities and ring fence it to be spent on social care, to help employers pay that Minimum Wage. That would end the disparity that exists between social care and NHS staff and also create some consistency in pay for social care staff across the country.

Kirsty

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