Social care leaders have welcomed a new action plan to recognise the importance of social care workers, but beyond “well-meaning gestures”, they say it lacks “clear measures” to instill confidence among providers.
The new action plan includes measures to boost access to PPE, ramp up testing in the sector and recruit 20,000 more staff.
At his Downing Street briefing last night, the Health and Social Care Secretary also hailed the CARE badge, launched last June, as a “badge of honour” to unite the sector and make it simpler for care-givers to access benefits, such as priority shopping hours, in the same ways as NHS staff.
But the action plan has been met with criticism from charities, providers and unions, who say the minister would do better to ensure that extra funding reaches the frontline, adding that the government’s PPE planning provision is “failing to work”.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “It’s right that the care, compassion and selflessness of care workers should be given proper recognition. They’re putting their lives on the line.
“But for all the warm words and promises about supplies of protective equipment, the situation appears to be getting worse, not better.
“Raising the status of the social care ‘brand’ is welcome but it must be backed by a long-term commitment to better pay. There must also be a move away from the fragmented and underfunded system that was already in crisis before the pandemic hit.”
Oona Goldsworthy, CEO of housing and care charity Brunelcare, said the government briefing was welcome news for the industry, but the provisions outlined needed to be actioned “weeks ago” and should have fallen in line with NHS provisions.
“The lack of PPE equipment across the industry is simply unacceptable, with some providers like us being just days away from running out entirely, all while caring for residents who have confirmed cases of coronavirus,” she said.
“The Government’s emergency PPE planning provision is failing to work for the entire sector. As an industry we have also had considerably mixed messages about PPE from the Government with messaging being misleading, inaccurate and confusing.”
Kathryn Smith, incoming chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), agreed that the government’s strategy is an “overdue” recognition that social care is on the front line battling to keep the most vulnerable safe from Covid-19.
She added: “It is indeed welcome to see this strategy published, for too long social care appears to have been an afterthought, putting thousands of potentially vulnerable people at risk, even more so during this COVID 19 crisis. This strategy when turned into action will start to address that balance, and will hopefully lay the foundations for future much needed reform. I look forward to supporting SCIE to play its part in the recovery and reform of social care starting with this strategy.”
Edel Harris, CEO of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Any steps to recognise the importance of support workers and the social care sector is very welcome, particularly the parity with NHS colleagues in terms of access to testing and PPE, announced today by the Secretary of State.
“But beyond well-meaning gestures, such as a badge and new branding, we would much prefer to see funds available so that the hard working frontline social care workforce can be given a pay rise on a par with the NHS to really value the incredible work they do.
“As a social care provider, we are still carrying most of the costs for PPE and additional staff which is clearly unsustainable. We need to see urgent action to push Local Authorities into releasing the additional £1.6 billion they’ve been given to support social care.”
Meanwhile, the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), said the action plan lacks detail on a delivery.
In a statement, the organisation said: “We need policy makers to grasp the very real, very live challenges the sector is facing while also making an investment to lay the foundations for a stronger sector once the pandemic is over.
“Instead, today’s publication provides a canter through the government’s reactions thus far when what the sector needs is a clear plan that instills confidence among social care providers coupled with a meaningful commitment of financial investment in a sustainable future.”