UNISON, the public services union, is using today’s International Women’s Day (Mar 8) to warn local authorities that overstretched resources in the care sector are depriving the largely female workforce of any dignity at work.
A great deal of care is provided for councils by non-profit organisations and the trade union has written to every council in Wales requesting a meeting to discuss how better funding in the sector would lift carers out of poverty.
Extreme financial constraints in the non-profit care sector have resulted in the slashing of carers’ supplements for sleep-ins at service users’ homes, holiday pay, bank holiday working premiums and sick pay.
Typically, they earn the minimum wage of £7.20 an hour and carers have told UNISON they feel exploited and would be financially better off working on the tills at a supermarket. Yet the work carers undertake is invaluable; they check on the welfare of service users and amongst other tasks, might help them take medication or prepare their meals. They care for the most vulnerable in society.
Many women opt to work in the care sector because it offers flexible working which can fit around their own care responsibilities at home.
Lynne Hackett, UNISON organiser said: “Thousands of women in Wales and their children are suffering the effects of in-work poverty despite their dedication in caring for older people, those who are physically disabled, individuals with mental health issues and those with learning disabilities and difficulties.
“If they were directly employed by the councils they would be more fairly paid. If care has been outsourced, councils should provide sufficient funding to non-profit organisations to ensure quality care for service users and dignity for the workforce. We know the pressures councils are under because of savage UK Conservative government cuts but the answer can’t be to punish those delivering care.
“Torfaen, Caerphilly, Bridgend and Flintshire councils deserve credit for agreeing to meet with us to discuss the crisis. Some local authorities are in a state of denial about the care sector and have not responded to UNISON. As we approach the local elections this will not be viewed sympathetically by the female carers living and working in their communities. On International Women’s Day, it would be wonderfully symbolic if all councils in Wales consented to a meeting.”
UNISON believes care should be undertaken by councils with a directly-employed local government workforce. The trade union has developed an Ethical Care Charter which it is asking councils in Wales to adopt. It would ensure dignity of care for patients and fair and decent employment standards for care staff.