Social care “in real trouble” as contractors crash and hundreds strike

The social care sector is "in real trouble" a senior union official has said after a disastrous week in which a company contracted to provide the service teetered on the brink of collapse and hundreds of workers prepared to strike

3 May 2019| News

The two holding companies behind care firm Four Seasons went into administration on Tuesday (30 April 2019), prompting fears for the welfare of the 17,000 service users under its care and the 20,000 workers it employs.

Unions blamed privatisation, a lack of public funding, and a government distracted by Brexit for the crisis.

“Social care is in real trouble,” Assistant General Secretary, Christina McAnea, said, adding that Four Seasons’ troubles “should act as an urgent wake up call to the government”.

“Care of the elderly is too important to be left to the many companies whose business models hinge upon huge levels of private equity serviced debt. This is a reckless approach and no way to run the UK’s care sector.

“When unsustainable care companies crash, it’s local councils that have to step in and pick up the pieces – even though years of cuts have left their finances in no fit state to do so,” she added.

Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, commented: “Lack of funding in the care sector is putting the profession – and all of our futures – in serious danger … the Conservatives must pledge to step in and make sure Four Seasons facilities continue to operate and give tens of thousands and workers and residents the reassurance they need.”

Ministers, however, do not appear to be showing any inclination to do so, with Azam noting that a Green Paper on social care reform has been kicked “into the long grass”.

Meanwhile, the fight between workers and employers over sleep-in shift rates continues.

Over 650 Unison members working for care firm Alternative Futures Group will begin seven days of industrial action on Tuesday over below Minimum Wage payments for nights spent in service users’ homes.

The dispute was sparked by the decision of the Courts to overturn a previous ruling that defined sleep-in shifts as ‘working time’ and thus payable at Minimum Wage rates. Cash-strapped care workers can now being asked to survive on flat rates that can fall as low as £3 per hour.

AFG workers can expect to lose as much as £2,000 per year after the employer took the Court’s decision as an opportunity to slash pay rates and Unison claim the firm has since rejected invitations to negotiate.

Unison North West Regional Convenor, Paula Barker, said: “AFG staff and council commissioners are furious that AFG senior managers have refused to negotiate to resolve the dispute.

“AFG’s pay cuts are jeopardising the future provision of care services for vulnerable people, as experienced and skilled care staff are being driven out of the sector.”