3 February 2020

We must end the profiteering approach to adult social care 

Social care is in crisis – we need to start putting people first, rather than profit, writes James Murray MP

Social care is in crisis: 1.5m people over 65 do not get the social care that they need. Chronic underfunding and the shift to private providers has hit those who need social care. It has hit those working in the sector too: the average care worker now earns more than £2,000 a year less than an entry-level worker at Aldi.

Since 2010, a total of £7.7bn has been taken out of social care budgets. As councils have been forced to narrow the eligibility criteria, far too many people being denied the support they need. Care workers are too often undervalued, underpaid and overworked, and the numbers providing care informally to family and friends is growing rapidly.

Our social care system is in urgent need of adequate funding and a system that no longer incentivises a race to the bottom on quality and workforce conditions. On January 16th, I gave my maiden speech during a debate on the Queen’s Speech and a Labour amendment which would have made sure health and social care are properly funded with an additional £26bn in real terms.

Alongside greater funding, we need to look at the way social care is provided too, and so on Wednesday I will be moving a Westminster Hall debate to show the key role that co-operative principles can play in this. Local authorities are beginning to look at what role co-operative approaches can play: my local Labour council in Ealing was elected in 2018 with a commitment to pilot a care co-operative. But there is far more that councils could do if they had support from national government.

For a start, there should be a right to first refusal for social workers to step in and take over failing private organisations who provide social care. At the moment, when private organisations face financial difficulties, they are often sold on to another private organisation or simply closed down. Where private organisations are failing, employees should have first refusal to take on part or all or their organisation. We need regulation to support co-operative models over for-profit ones. Currently all non-state providers are categorised as ‘independent’, which undermines the ability of care users and their families to distinguish between for-profit and non-profit providers. The Care Quality Commission should modify its inspection methodology to make sure the benefits of non-profit co-operative models can thrive.

We need protection against asset-stripping. Where social care services are mutualised and moved outside the local authority they should be ‘asset locked’ to ensure that assets of all types are locked within the organisation. This is critical to preventing asset stripping or demutualisation.

And local authorities should be given a duty to promote co-operative organisations to deliver care in their area. We can learn from Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which puts a duty on local authorities to promote co-operative organisations to deliver care in their area. These steps by national government would help support co-operative approaches to social care – putting the people who need social care, their families, and their care workers at the heart of decisions about how social care is provided. We must end the current approach which allows private companies to profiteer, whilst older people, those who rely on social care, and the workers who provide it, pay the price.

This article was first published by Politics Home here. 

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