UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The decimation of social care & the urgent need to organise in private sector‏

The Local Government Association (LGA) statement that "virtually all" councils in England and Wales could be forced to end home help for elderly and disabled people, received extensive media coverage over the weekend. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11662088

The BBC quoted an unnamed LGA official stating that "we have been worried about this for some time. If you take 28% out of council budgets, you are bound to limit councils' ability to provide these services. In large parts of the country this will mean the end to home help". Today, home help services are largely provided by private agencies and, as UNISON has noted, provision by Council’s has declined in the past 20 years with services being provided to “only to those with the most critical needs”:  http://www.unison.org.uk/localgov/homecare.asp

Cuts will cost lives

Already we are seeing further swathes of social services being handed over to the same agencies that have captured home care services and in the process created endemic casual employment and low pay.

The implications of the cuts and outsourcing are profound. Our communities and societal conscience will have to shift to accept that an increasing number of the most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods are going to die in increasing numbers without any support (social or medical) if budgets are slashed and services drive down by price. Investment in technological remedies - such as electronic pads round the bed to activate alarms if a fall from bed occurs is also being slashed.

For example in a Merseyside metroploitan borough, a wholly owned Care Organisation is almost in ruin and may have to be sold on (if indeed they can find a buyer). It will not only be Home Care (which incidentally also provides services to children), that disappears, but also protection services to all vulnerable people. The budget cannot be cut to that degree without impacting directly on frontline (so-called) services including social workers - again a societal shift will need to take place that accepts an increased risk to the most vulnerable way above our developing awareness that children are actually being abused!

The right wing press will love it as reduced money allocated to local authorities, but with increased autonomy to spend, will simply mean, when it fails, and it will, the local authority and more likely the individual worker, will be hammered in the press. The moral compass of any society has to be the manner in which it cares for the vulnerable - the coalition has no map, no direction and is now well and truly lost!!

Time to organise

84% of home care is privatised and renewed efforts by UNISON to organise outsourced workers in the sector are very timely.  http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/A11850.pdf

The lesson of the past 20 years across local government – from home care to school meals – is that it is the ability of council’s to externally source lower labour costs which will relentlessly drive privatisation. A pre-condition of forcing Con Dem ministers to adequately fund essential social care services is challenging the pretence that a quart can be squeezed out of a pint pot.

Unless we organise in the private agencies and resist the race to the bottom the LGA will have called it right and direct provision of social care let alone home help services will cease to exist. But Organising in the private sector poses many new and very difficulty challenges for UNISON. The employers are far more anti trade union and less concerned about notions of fairness to trade unions and their members.

The social care sector although enormous in numbers is extremely resource intensive for union organising - small or non existent workplaces, or concentrated in lone working practices. This requires union organisers in big numbers, a change in priorities for union spending and strategic targeting of employers in this market to win increases in density and improvements in conditions. it is long term work on organising that is needed and this cannot be confused with short term recruiting blitzes.