Late May has seen significant developments in the fight around social care.
After months of refusing to even address the issue of sick pay and isolation pay for care workers, the Tories have announced a £600m “infection control fund”. Guidance for the fund states that part of its purpose is to “maintain the normal wages of staff who, in order to reduce the spread of infection need to reduce the number of establishments in which they work, reduce the number of hours they work, or self-isolate”.
This is potentially an enormous victory. But the announcement has been very quiet, no doubt because of fear of demands from other workers, and of difficult questions about why it has taken the government so long. It will take trade union and political action to ensure that care workers actually receive these rights.
In HC-One, employing 27,000 carers, the GMB union has just won a leap from statutory sick pay only to full and back-dated sick pay. We need to spread such victories throughout the sector.
Union organising and pressure is key. Another channel is pressuring councils to act to ensure implementation in their area (as Salford already had, even before this announcement).
The Safe and Equal campaign is campaigning to spread these rights to all workers and make them permanent by winning full sick pay for all.
In the last week Safe and Equal activists have also been working with others to push the wider demand for public ownership and provision of social care.
After she was sacked from her frontline care job for speaking out about PPE shortages, Nottingham East MP and S&E supporter Nadia Whittome wrote in the Guardian to advocate public ownership. Now a wide range of trade union, Labour Party and other activists have launched a statement quoting Nadia’s article and pledging a fight to win public ownership as well as more immediate demands.
As the statement notes, the last Labour conference passed strong policy for a public care system.. But as on many issues, the Starmer leadership is ignoring the position decided by members.
Labour spokespeople have advocated very little either in terms of immediate demands — e.g. on isolation pay — or the wider organisation of the sector. More funding is about as radical as it gets. More funding, in the absence of public ownership, means more money for the private companies and corporations that have wrecked the care system.
Campaigning to transform social care cannot be limited to changing Labour policy. But as on other questions, Labour policy is an important strand in the struggle we need to wage.
If the labour movement doesn’t fight for public ownership now, in this crisis, it will be spectacularly failing the test of events. Let’s fight to ensure it doesn’t.
Over half of Sweden’s 4,000 Covid-19 deaths have been in care homes.
In response, unions have negotiated a deal with the government and local authorities to attack precarious employment in the sector by making 10,000 casual care workers permanent, with improved rights and training.
Even now, on latest figures 62% of Britain’s care homes have had no virus cases. There is still time to save thousands of lives by action on PPE, isolation pay, and other worker-conditions issues.
• See here for the Safe and Equal campaign to make all workplaces safer by calling for full self-isolation pay for all workers.