IER Chair, Lord John Hendy QC, has warned the House of Lords that the crisis in social care cannot be rectified without significant changes to the way care workers are employed.
Speaking at the second reading of the Elderly Social Care (Insurance) Bill, Lord Hendy reminded peers that staff turnover in the social care sector is seriously undermining the service the cared-for receive.
There is currently a 10% vacancy rate for care workers and a whopping third of recruits leave the sector within the first 12 months of starting their jobs.
Lord Hendy described this extraordinary turnover as “catastrophic for those receiving care”.
“They never know who is going to attend them from one day to the next,” he explained. “Caring relationships become impossible.”
This crisis is a result of swingeing austerity cuts, which have reduced social care funding by 40% even as the UK’s ageing population has increased demand for the services, making 1.9m requests for help every year – over 5,000 per day.
“Cost reduction has been achieved by outsourcing social care to private companies,” Lord Hendy said.
“From 90% of social care provided in-house 25 years ago, only 10% is in-house today. This is because outsourcing social care is cheaper. How is this achieved? Simple. The earnings of the workers are slashed.”
One in four of the UK’s 1.49m care workers are employed on on zero-hours contracts, while other are falsely self-employed of forced to work under Personal Service Companies, which effectively strip them of all employment rights.
“The career progression and pensions that care workers had when in local authority employ have evaporated,” Lord Hendy told the House. “The democratic input they had into the conditions of their working lives is no more. Then, their unions bargained collectively to set terms and conditions across the sector. Employers knew that they wouldn’t be undercut by competitors. Workers knew that they would enjoy NJC conditions. Their voice is now silenced.
“Private employers do not bargain collectively. They compete for tenders on the basis of the lowest labour costs they think they can get away with. Terms are set unilaterally on a take it or leave it basis.”
Lord Hendy concluded his speech by calling for the restoration of collective bargaining in the adult social care sector, commending the work of Professor Lydia Hayes as an important text on such a policy.
Providing workers with the right to negotiate their pay and conditions would be “one step we could take which would improve the lot of carers and the cared-for”, he said.