A Unison survey over nearly 3,000 care workers across England found that 28% did not have time to bathe, shower or wash the people they care for; 19% described being so rushed by their schedules they were unable to take service users to the toilet; and 21% reported having no time to make food or drinks for those in their care.
Even when basic needs like these are met, almost half of care workers are unable to provide support with dignity and compassion because they need to rush through their jobs so quickly.
Two in five said they had been forced to leave service users in a state of distress and 41% said they couldn’t stop for a chat (despite 31% saying the people they care for are not regularly visited by friends and family).
Unison pointed to the sector being poorly funded, short-staffed, and associated with “intolerable” working conditions as the root causes behind the problems service users are facing.
Assistant General Secretary of the union, Christina McAnea, said: “Care workers and those they look after are suffering because the government isn’t listening to those on the front line.
“Care staff try to do their best, but the system is increasingly stopping them from providing dignified support. Elderly and disabled people are ending up lonely and without their care needs met.
“Vulnerable people will continue to be failed by a flawed system unless the government provides decent funding, better training and fair pay for care workers.”
Indeed, 49% of care workers told Unison they were thinking of leaving their job, with 53% of these saying they were unhappy that they were not given enough time to tend to service users’ needs.
Their employers are also not providing for the needs of the workers. Nearly three-quarters of those who were thinking of changing jobs said they were being driven away by low pay and 15% cited a lack of training. Shockingly 14% reported carrying out medical tasks they had not been trained for – including giving injections – and 24% believed they did not get the training they needed to properly perform their jobs.
When staff raised these concerns, over two-fifths of the workers said they were either ignored or punished for it, the research found. Over half (55%) did not feel respected and valued by their employer, and 41% said they are treated unfairly.
The Institute of Employment Rights agrees that there is a strong association between poor working conditions for care workers and the services the most vulnerable people in our society receive. It is not right that care workers can be paid as little as £3 per hour for overnight shifts, or that employers are able to mislead them about their employment rights – as uncovered in Lydia Hayes’ popular report 8 Good Reasons Why Adult Social Care Needs Sectoral Collective Bargaining.
As Dr Hayes comments: “Anyone who is concerned about care for elderly and disabled people ought to put centre-stage a concern for poor-quality jobs and disrespect of the economic and social interests of the workforce”.
Pointing to successful collective bargaining arrangements made in Australia, Canada and California – where significant improvements in care provision resulted – she recommends the UK take a similar tack.
“The commitment and motivation of the adult social care workforce is key to the provision of high-quality services. Wide-ranging transformation is required in which the state, employers’ associations and trade unions work together to establish sectoral collective bargaining,” she says.
“It would mean that every care worker (whether employed by a local authority, independent contractor, individual care recipient or operating on a self-employed basis) was covered by a sectoral collective agreement and entitled to fair terms and conditions based on industry-wide minimum rates commensurate with their work and specialisms,” she continues.
“The introduction of collective bargaining across the sector would affirm the link between labour standards and care standards to secure the dignity of socially valuable caring relationships and the future of adult social care in the UK.