Crisis in care: Interview with an anarchist support worker

Crisis in care: Interview with an anarchist support worker

An interview with a support worker in Sheffield about the problems in social care as a result of the recession and the proposed austerity measures.

I work as a support worker for a private company that provides social care for people in Sheffield for people with learning disabilities and mental health issues. The company I work operates across the city. According to government officials, cuts to public spending will not harm front line services, workers, or service users. The reality of the situation is that working conditions are getting worse, day services are closing down, and those paying for the support services are being excluded from any of the decisions relating to care they supposedly direct and influence.

The Sheffield city council budget has been slashed by 8.35% for next year, and this has amounted to a huge cut to front line care. What this has amounted to on the ground is a huge reduction in staffing levels, pushing local unemployment even higher. Those left in the job are left with the unenviable task of filling in the gaps, which means being over worked, and stressed. Many care workers, some with over 20 years experience, are finding it too stressful to carry on, and are walking away from the job, meaning that the most qualified staff in the company are leaving, while new employees, who often aren’t given a decent (and legally required) level of training before they are left to work with clients. This is dangerous to both clients, who often have serious health issues, and to workers, who are not given help to do the job safely (some clients have histories of challenging behaviour, violence etc)

Many of the people I work with have been sent into intense panic, fearing that their disability benefits will be cut and that they will be forced onto a work fare scheme in order to claim. This has led to increased difficulties at work, which again impacts upon the well being of clients and staff. For staff, we have been given an indefinite pay freeze (rates of pay are already extremely low – and the price of food, bills, rent etc has risen fairly sharply in recent months) and a loss of a chance of promotion and advancement within the company. The tactics of management have in recent weeks been an attempt to shift responsibility downwards. In essence, this means an unpaid promotion – increased work hours and responsibilities without extra pay. People are worried, and the constant upheavals in company policy leave staff and clients confused. Many people within the company care deeply about the people they support, and the fact that they are leaving is causing massive emotional stress on all sides.

The company I work for claims to be not-for-profit, this tends to give people the impression that the company operates with some kind of ethical policy. The reality is that instead of money being invested in desperately needed equipment for staff (such as computers that are less than a decade old) instead money has been spent on redecorating the offices of the executive managers and the reception area of the company (in order to make it ‘look more professional’ – the appearance of good care being more easily achieved than the practice of good care).

The company has also engaged in the bizarre tactic of employing agency staff to work as short term “bank workers” in order to plug the gaps created by the redundancies they have introduced. This means that for every worker the company gets from an agency they are paying for two (agencies charge ‘service rates’ which are roughly the same as the employees wages). Essentially this means that the company is firing experienced and dedicated workers to employ untrained and short term agency workers, while paying double the cost for the privilege. The reasons behind this plan seem fairly obvious. Agency workers are in a precarious position, and if they complain about being over worked, and under paid then they can be fired with no notice, whereas an employee cannot. The changes that management want to bring in over the next few months require a work force that does not feel secure, and able to resist the exploitation that is happening.

From The Fargate Speaker

Comments

boozemonarchy
Feb 8 2011 19:56

This was a great article and of particular interest to myself.

I'm in the western US working for a "not-for-profit" that provides care and services for adults born with developmental disabilities.

Since my first job in the care-giving industry years and years ago, I've seen a slow hacking away at conditions for employees and service quality for our clients.

The reason my current job exists in the first place is the result of the state trying slash spending on essential services while coming into compliance with new laws.

Basically the story goes like this;

*In 1990s the state feels public pressure to end the practice of confining adults born with DDs' into mental institutions. Before this time, if your were born with a DD and didn't have family or the means to provide for yourself, you were imprisoned in mental institutions. Housed with people who were not Developmentally Disabled but had serious mental illness these folks often experienced abuse at the hands of fellow patients and fucked up employees alike. In some institutions, the staff to client (prisoner) ratio was 1 to 15 or worse. No chance for any of these folks to ever connect with the community, work, have fun with friends. Nothing but confinement, often abused, and never on anybody on the outsides mind.

Eventually laws were passed in other states, and pressure came to bare on my state to change its act.

So;

*The state put out feelers to see if an NGO could provide services in compliance with the law (and decency) cheaper than the current level of state spending for these adults.

*The state accepted the lowest bids and helped front alot of the money to get things in order. Unusually longsighted, the state decided to spend a little extra cash now, and saves tons in the future.

Basically the state saw a chance to sack a bunch of highly paid union workers, save on paperwork (let the NGO do it), come in to compliance with the law (treat these folks like human beings), and save shit-tons on wages. We are currently paid roughly half of what the workers who worked for the state were getting.

Since this great business move by the state, it has done nothing but cut funding to the NGOs' it helped set up, and my employer has an excellent excuse (very often used) for the insanely low wages she pays out. Just the other month we received a memo explaining why our Christmas bonus was so paltry. She just said that it was state funding levels, mentioned the govs name a couple of times, called it good.

Anyways, cheers to the author above for bringing into light a simple truth about this sort of work. When our employers attack our working conditions, it is also an attack on our clients right to receive the best possible care.

A drink raised to those who fight to up working conditions, and provide better care for clients.

Cheers,

B

chegrimandi
Feb 9 2011 14:04

excellent article. This mirrors what my girlfriend is saying at the moment. She works in a day centre in Haringey for people that have dementia & they are closing one of the 2 centres they have in the borough. Obviously this will impact on the people with dementia & the level of support they get & also the people that will face the sack & those that are kept on will be longer working hours & shittier working conditions. She already doesn't get a lunch break as it is. But it's all ok because project fucking merlin is in place to keep banks in check & stop any repeat of the banking collapse that caused our huge borrowing levels at UK level.

;-/

Joseph Kay
Feb 9 2011 14:26

great stuff - this kind of writing about our experiences as workers is something we need more of. if any Sheffield AF people are reading this would it be ok to republish it as a 'letter' on the comment/opinion page of the next Catalyst? (in principle, i'd have to run it by the rest of the collective).

RedAndBlack
Feb 10 2011 12:32
Joseph Kay wrote:
if any Sheffield AF people are reading this would it be ok to republish it as a 'letter' on the comment/opinion page of the next Catalyst? (in principle, i'd have to run it by the rest of the collective).

That would be great.

Spikymike
Aug 31 2013 13:55

I wonder what company that is?

I went along to support a rally last thursday of such support workers in Rochdale on their second strike against attempts by the laughably titled 'Future Directions' company that had been set up as a subsidiary of Calderdale NHS to win tenders from local authorities in the north west including in this case Rochdale, by making substantial cuts to the wages and conditions of it's previously TUPE'd NHS staff. As far as I know the majority of these staff were UNISON members and whilst they were getting organisational, legal and financial support from the national union and other local branches including Sheffield, there was no suggestion of trying to get solidarity action from any workers for Calderdale NHS or Rochdale Council. This all seems to be part of a continuing trend of attacks in the NHS and social services involving some determined but isolated responses with many defeats and only a few wins?

Not sure if there is any regular tag for tracking whats going on in this sector?

Steven.
Aug 31 2013 14:15

Yeah, I have read bits about the Rochdale dispute, they are striking for five days.

In terms of trying to get solidarity action from workers in the NHS or the council, at the moment in many areas the majority of workers are not even prepared to take official industrial action in defence of their own conditions, let alone unofficial action in defence of anyone else's.

It's a shit situation but I can't see things changing that much in the near future… Although of course that is the only way we will start to win!

This is our social care tag:
http://libcom.org/tags/social-care

Spikymike
Aug 31 2013 15:49

Thanks - I'd forgotten about the dispute with the 'alternative-futures-group' in Lancashire last year. Similar name and the same practices but it seems a different company. I couldn't see from a quick read through those blogs what the final outcome of that was - perhaps madashell who was involved can respond?

Theft
Sep 6 2013 20:58
Spikymike wrote:
As far as I know the majority of these staff were UNISON members and whilst they were getting organisational, legal and financial support from the national union and other local branches including Sheffield, there was no suggestion of trying to get solidarity action from any workers for Calderdale NHS or Rochdale Council.

Do you know by any chance which Unison branch in Sheffield?