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We cannot overstate the scale of the social care crisis in this country. The Government continue to kick the proverbial can down the road, with the Green Paper promised in March 2017 still not having materialised, and much of the public conversation focuses simply on the issue of funding. Clearly, I do not wish to diminish the urgency of the need for greater funding, but without fixing all that is structurally broken in social care, any increase in funding will not necessarily flow through to care quality or care workers’ wages, where it is desperately needed.
First and foremost, we must look at the skills and professionalisation agenda in social care. I urge all colleagues across the House to read the report from the last Parliament by the all-party parliamentary group on social care co-chaired by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh and Gillian Keegan. It made some very important recommendations in this area, particularly about registration and the lack of qualifications that are transportable across the health and social care sectors. Addressing this will, in turn, create an upward pressure on wages, and give people more pathways to development and progression so as to make a career in care more viable, reducing the turnover in the sector. The pay differential between a new care worker and someone with years of experience is only about 17p per hour. This cannot continue.
We must urgently look at the issue of the fragmented provider landscape and outsourcing, which is one of the key drivers of low pay in the sector. Only yesterday I was forced to write to a local provider about its proposals to reduce the terms and conditions of former council workers outsourced to the company. Private firm Catalyst Choices, which has been providing care services for Warrington Borough Council since 2015, is proposing cuts including, but not limited to, a reduction in weekend enhancements, overtime pay and sick pay. I do not want to single out this provider because I understand that this problem is replicated up and down the country owing to chronic underfunding by cash-starved local authorities. However, it is forcing people out of the sector. In my constituency, every time the Trafford Centre advertises for temporary workers, we see a knock-on effect in local care. When Amazon opened a distribution centre in Warrington, that triggered a crisis of care provision locally. What does it say about how we value our care workforce that a company with a reputation for poor pay and exploitative work practices is considered preferable to remaining in social care?
This workforce crisis in care is evidently having a really detrimental impact on the provision of care, as we cannot get quality care on the cheap. Shortages of care workers locally mean that too many elderly people in the villages of my constituency are having to stay in hospital because they cannot get a care package to support them back in their homes.
While we must develop an effective workforce strategy for our care workforce, working with care providers and the TUC on a real sectoral plan, we must also ensure that the challenges faced by our unpaid carers are properly recognised. We have 6.5 million unpaid carers in our country. Despite the additional costs of caring, the lack of practical support means that carers often contribute their own money to care for their loved ones. Despite the significant costs and the value of care that they provide, the main benefit for people caring—carer’s allowance—is the lowest of its kind, at £66.15 per week. It is not nearly enough.
Until we start to properly recognise and reward care work, whether it is formal or informal, paid or unpaid, we will never have a system that provides the quality of care that everyone deserves. This Government can no longer dither and delay on one of the biggest crises we face as a society, and the problem grows more severe with each passing day as the issues that I have outlined go unaddressed. Before coming into Parliament, I worked for a trade union and used to speak to careworkers, who told me that they were frightened to retire, because they know what is waiting for them when they need care. That is a sobering thought on a future that we need real action now to avoid.