Opinion

Walking in your shoes

Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

It’s a real privilege to have been asked to write for Care Talk Magazine this month, and I want to pay tribute to all of our social care staff who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much this year in the most difficult of circumstances. You are all heroes, the very best of our country and it’s hard to put into words just how much we all owe you.

You have rightly been praised as heroes this year, but the truth is that you have always been heroes. You’ve always been the backbone of our communities, caring for people who need it.

I also wanted to say how proud I am that I was a home carer before I became a Member of Parliament. I worked nights in Stockport, on poverty pay and a zero hours contract, so when I listen to social care workers who are being a paid wage that they can’t live on, I know how it feels because I’ve walked in your shoes. I’m only where I am today because of my old workmates who supported me, encouraged me and put me forward as their union rep.

We all know how badly our social care staff have been let down by the government during this crisis, and I feel your anger. You have been left without the protective equipment needed to keep you and the people you care for safe, you have been left without the testing that the government has promised, and patients carrying the virus were discharged from hospitals into our care homes, spreading the virus amongst the most vulnerable.

Care homes were first told they would have weekly testing back in July, yet this has still not been delivered. Back in June we were promised that all coronavirus test results would be delivered within 24 hours, but only 1 in 4 in-person tests are being turned around within this timeline. And we are of course still waiting for the promised “world-beating” testing system – or just a testing system that actually works.

I want to say in the clearest possible terms that it is a disgrace that the Prime Minister demeaned his office by trying to blame our social care workforce for the spread of coronavirus in our care homes.

Last week on the front page of The Daily Telegraph there was a report detailing how the Department for Health and Social Care had written to care homes and providers telling them to prepare to take Covid patients being discharged from hospitals again this winter. Has the government learnt nothing from the catastrophic mistakes they made earlier this year?

The whole sector knows that the coronavirus crisis has made the crisis that existed in our social care before this pandemic even more urgent. On his very first day in office, the Prime Minister promised to fix the crisis in social care, with a plan he said he’d already prepared. But now it turns out that it won’t be published until next year. That is just not good enough. We cannot afford any more delays.

Under this government, promises aren’t kept and words aren’t backed by action. Earlier this year Ministers fell over themselves to clap for our carers. But as we all know, and those on the frontline know better than anyone, applause on a Thursday night doesn’t pay the rent. A pat on the back doesn’t put food on the table.

When I asked him at Prime Minister’s Questions last month, Boris Johnson had no idea what the average social care worker was paid. It was a moral outrage before this pandemic that the average wage for a social care worker is £8.10 an hour and half do not even earn the real living wage. But now, it is indefensible.

After all of your sacrifice and hardship, we can’t go back to business as usual where our care workers – the very people who have risen to this challenge – continue to be underpaid, undervalued and exploited.

The government’s promised plan to fix the crisis in social care must ensure that every care worker is paid at least the real living wage.

Nobody should be forced to choose between going to work and putting vulnerable people at risk, or isolating at home and being able to pay the bills. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has admitted that he couldn’t live on Statutory Sick Pay of £94 a week, but many social care staff are on casual contracts and do not even receive that derisory amount if they are off sick or need to self-isolate.

The government has abandoned our social care system over the last decade under successive Conservative Prime Ministers, not just during this pandemic. As Keir Starmer said last month, the social care system in our country is a disgrace to a rich nation. Our promise to you is that we will hold the government to account on its promises, and a Labour government will finally fix our social care system so that staff are able to focusing on doing their jobs and caring for others.

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