Urgent funds aimed at tackling the health and social care crisis may be swallowed up by care providers and not passed onto workers, Yorkshire and Humberside UNISON have said.
The £4.2m fund to give Sheffield’s carers a pay rise was unveiled by Sheffield City Council earlier this year and is a key pledge for the party ahead of this Thursday’s local elections.
Robin Symonds, social care lead at the Labour-affiliated union, said over 200 private companies contracted by the council to administer adult social care are likely to use the money to maintain or increase profit levels.
He said: “Our main concern is that the council are putting in £4.2m, which is not to be sniffed at, particularly as councillors are having their budgets cut, but we’re not convinced it’s going to find its way into the pay packets of care workers.
“Care workers are working people too, who pay council tax. They’re not just beneficiaries, they’re paying, so if the additional council tax is going into care company profits, the workers are then paying to increase their employer’s profits as well.”
The fund also aims to help increase staff retention in the sector, in response to reported staff turnovers as high as 50 per cent by some care providers. Fewer staff means adult social care is less readily available, worsening the crisis.
Sheffield City Council signed up to the UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter in 2017, which requires all care providers operating on behalf of the council to pay the foundation living wage. Four years later, most carers in the city are still on minimum wage.
The union are calling for the council to make paying carers the foundation living wage a contractual obligation. Nationally, they are calling for the introduction of a publicly-funded National Care Service, free at the point of use similar to the NHS.
In their manifesto for the local elections, Sheffield Labour have promised to only award new contracts to companies who agree with their ethical standards: “by paying their taxes, respecting workers’ rights and equal opportunities, and investing in the talents of their employees through good training and healthy, safe working conditions.”
Meanwhile, adult social care precept has risen in Sheffield by 3 per cent this year, the maximum allowed by central government limits, alongside a council tax rise of 1.99 per cent. There is growing concern among the city’s residents a rise in so-called regressive taxes puts a significant financial burden on those least able to afford it.
One resident, who lives in a Band B property, said: “It’s been tough on everyone so it’s difficult to decide who should pay. Something is going to have to give but it’s already so expensive.”
At the budget meeting where the fund was announced, Sheffield Lib Dem leader Shaffaq Mohammed said: “There’s considerable demand for adult social care both at a local level and nationally, therefore actually here it should be funded from government.
“Councils across the country, like ours, are left with little choice but to raise council tax and often that hits the most vulnerable.”