Who cares for the carers?

Rob Ray investigates how privatisation is costing social care workers, following a damning verdict in a recent report, for Freedom Newspaper

Submitted by Rob Ray on May 22, 2008

The full impact of two decades of privatisating social care on the working conditions of carers has been revealed in recently published research.

Analysis by the Thomas Coram Research Unit of the University of London has found that on average social care workers are earning £12,338 per annum for a 32-hour week, with wages in the private sector dragging down averages which are already more than £1,200 below the poverty line for families. The report also highlighted a significant and growing gender gap in the sector, as women remained working in a growing number of care and assistant working positions, while their male counterparts tended to move into higher-paid ‘education’ occupations.

In a damning statement, the research unit said: “Pay and conditions in the ‘for profit’ sector are mostly lower than in other sectors, especially the public sector. The ‘for profit’ sector dominates the provision of both ‘childcare’ and ‘eldercare’ services, which rely heavily on low paid women workers with relatively low levels of qualification. Whatever other benefits it may have brought, the growth of ‘for profit’ providers, especially in childcare and social care services, has had adverse consequences for the pay and conditions of the care workforce.”

The research further noted extremely high job turnover in the care industry, which has come in for heavy criticism in recent years for its treatment of staff and casualised approach to sensitive work with vulnerable people: “Social care workers have the second shortest period of continuous employment with the same employer among the six main occupational groups (in the social service sector), with care assistants and home carers having a particularly short period of continuous employment.”

Social care workers include home care assistants or people who work in residential care homes, covering a wide range of roles working with older people, children and families and people with disabilities. Forty percent of employment in the social care sector is for private companies, while 27% is covered by the not-for-profit sector and only a third of workers are directly employed by the government, following a trend of privatisation which started in 1982 with the passing of the Social Security Act, which was accelerated by the mass closure of NHS beds in the 1990s.

Unison, the major union body covering social care work, has lobbied for an end to state outsourcing of the remaining jobs in social care, with some local success in Bristol and Carmarthenshire, but improvements to working conditions, particularly in the private sector, look unlikely in the near future. Underinvestment in the sector has been a recurring theme for advocacy groups, with a recent Help the Aged report finding that up to 500,000 elderly people in the United Kingdom may be suffering some form of physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. Age Concern have reported that one in five care homes and home care providers did not meet minimum standards for residential care as of last year.