VECTIS VIEW: Mark Chiverton – Isle of Wight UNISON branch secretary

By Press Release Sep 7, 2021

Recent local media headlines have graphically highlighted aspects of the growing crisis in adult social care which, given the Isle of Wight’s demographic, clearly affects the Island significantly more than many other areas.

Less than 18 months ago, huge numbers were out on doorsteps on a weekly basis, clapping hands in tribute to the heroic efforts of underpaid staff in health, residential care, outreach and other front-line services who were putting their lives on the line to provide high quality care to vulnerable and frightened service users. Tragically, since that time, the ongoing pandemic has brutally exposed the government’s consistent underfunding of our vital public services with the longstanding neglect of adult social care being thrust into the spotlight on a regular basis.
None of this will come as any surprise to the care sector’s dedicated workers who have been all too aware of the growing crisis afflicting social care – whether provided by councils or by private providers. Many of these employees have, increasingly, highlighted the immense difficulty of maintaining a good quality service in the face of massive funding shortages. These problems are compounded by the difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff in a situation where pay levels are almost always set at, or only just above, the entirely inadequate National Minimum Wage.

This low pay scandal must be addressed without delay. Social care staff in all settings are required to provide an increasingly professional service in response to ever more complex and demanding care needs. In addition, many of them (particularly those in the private sector and those undertaking home visits) have to be available for an exceptionally long span of hours from early morning until late at night – generally with minimal or no recompense for waiting time between calls or for travel costs. The unfailing commitment of staff is recognised by service users and their families – for many of whom they are a crucial lifeline. Last year’s regular rounds of applause also demonstrated the public’s appreciation, but this still hasn’t enabled care staff to achieve a decent pay settlement or helped them achieve a more acceptable work/life balance.

The consistent underfunding of social care has been regularly highlighted in numerous independent reports and by many backbench MPs. But in spite of this, and the constant representations from councils, care providers and trade unions, the government’s response completely fails to meet the community’s needs. Unless there is an urgent and radical rethink of priorities, with an ongoing programme of investment to reverse years of neglect, then home closures and cutbacks will continue.
My own trade union, UNISON, has long expressed frustration that the Tory government consistently de-prioritises social care. Since 2010, budgets have been cut by at least £8 billion nationwide. These dogmatic austerity measures have inevitably resulted in significant local cuts including the closure of all mental health day centres by the Isle of Wight Council in 2019 and the halving in size of the Night Outreach Service last year.

To avoid further disasters, all of us need to do everything we can to step up pressure on the government to respond to what councils, care providers, trade unions (and, most importantly, service users and their families!) are saying about the crucial need for more credible levels of investment. Without this change of direction, there can only be an accelerating decline in which adult social care becomes more and more of a “Cinderella service” – with poverty pay, and consequent staff shortages, being the norm.