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The Government must tax wealth to bail out local authorities, so that councils can work for people, not big business – Roger McKenzie

“We should not expect care workers to do the vital work of looking after our loved ones on the cheap.”

Roger McKenzie

Roger McKenzie outlines how budget cuts and outsourcing of social care to private contractors is failing both our loved ones and the dedicated staff who care for them.

UNISON has already made clear the dangers posed by the funding gap that councils now face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which will hit the care sector hard. As we have pointed out, if cuts “were applied equally”, adult social care, which has borne the brunt of Coronavirus crisis, would lose £3.5 billion, a massive cut to already struggling services. According to the Office for National Statistics, 20,000 care home residents tragically lost their lives as a result of the disease. But even before the crisis, the care sector – particularly in England – was not getting enough funding from central government.

UNISON members in Local Authorities have seen vital services decimated from youth services, education, housing, support services, trading standards, libraries to Social care. We all know that these cuts not only impact on the staff that are left trying to run core services but these cuts have destroyed life lines for many of the vulnerable in society that rely on Local Authority services.

We have seen most councils outsource their care services to private contractors, which too often provide poor pay and conditions for their staff. Many care workers – 1 in 10, according to the Resolution Foundation – are on zero-hours contracts, without sick-pay, and so can’t afford to take time off when they’re ill. This of course affects the ability of care workers to do their job effectively and to keep themselves and those the care for safe. With people forced into work even when they are themselves unwell, is it any wonder Covid-19 has had such a devastating impact in the care sector? The solution to the problems faced in the care sector is already clear, as laid out in the 2019 Labour manifesto, which promised a comprehensive, publicly owned and publicly run National Care Service.

But the very serious crisis in care homes also highlights a wider problem in local government: as austerity has eaten away at council budgets, services have been contracted out to outsourcing providers as a means of seemingly saving money. Because councils now rely so heavily on private contractors both for service provision and advice on reducing costs, the interests of those who need council services is becoming secondary to the preferences of the private sector.

According to the Institute for Government “across all services, many of the savings [from outsourcing contracts] have been achieved by reducing the pay and conditions of staff.” This trend has led to the problems that hampered the ability of the social care sector to deal with Covid-19. As we’ve seen in the care sector, cuts to the terms and conditions can lead stressed out, overworked and demotivated staff, who feel insecure in their employment and are unable to provide the level of service they would like. We should not expect care workers to do the vital work of looking after our loved ones on the cheap.

The current shortfall in council funding means that, in 2020, many councils are once again spending millions consulting with corporations over the best way to implement cuts. This the kind of entirely avoidable expenditure of much needed local government resource could be saved if the government were to invest in councils now, while investigating the best means of nationalising the care sector; a government funded National Social Care Service would also relieve councils of a considerable ongoing financial pressure, while giving social care the resource it really needs.

Covid-19 has also shown that, if it is really needed, the money can be found to dish out contracts to friends of the Tories yet Councils and care homes continue to be thrown to the wolves.

For too long, councils have had to put up with cuts, even as the government has bailed out big corporations. This isn’t working: we need a culture that serves the people, not capital. This is why, as Unison General Secretary, I’ll back economist Thomas Picketty’s proposal of a windfall wealth tax to bail out cash strapped councils and provide better pay and conditions for care workers – many of them Unison members – who are doing such vital work caring for our loved ones during this difficult time.  

  • Roger McKenzie is a candidate for UNISON General Secretary. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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