The market degrades all decent human instincts of fairness and concern for others. Two events in the last few weeks dramatically expose how far this corruption of the values of the health service and social care has now gone. One was the publication of the latest Department of Health accounts which shows payouts to some 4,000 ‘revolving door’ managers who have left since May 2010 with large payouts, only to return either on full-time or part-time contracts. Altogether there have been over 38,000 redundancy packages awarded to managers costing a total of £1.6bn. Since 2010 there have been 1,700 payouts to managers of £100-150,000, nearly 600 of between c£150-200,000, and 370 of over £200,000. For comparison, in the last year before the 2010 election total redundancy payments amounted to just £35m.
At the other end of the healthcare system, according to the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College, 150,000 care workers today are getting less than tghe minimum wage which is currently just £6.31 an hour. The Care Minister in the government has admitted that there are 307,000 care workers on zero-hours contracts. In many cases care workers are not paid for the time they take to travel from one client to another. They are also docked wages for accommodation and uniforms. As a result wages can drop as low as only £5.21 an hour, which is illegal.
In Doncaster the private equity company that has taken over Care UK has just announced cuts of up to 35% in care workers’ wages, cutting what was already very low pay by up to £7,000 a year and also making restrictions in holidays and sick pay. This is the private equity company of which Lord Nash, now a government minister, was once chairman and Care UK, which it now controls, has paid £1.5 millions in salaries, fees, bonuses and benefits to its directors, including a salary of £800,000 to its chief executive, nearly 70 times more than the care workers he supervises.
What is urgently needed is a robust political response to this gross and intolerable disparity in earnings which also shows a total disregard for the value of vocation and the exploitation of hugely undervalued workers. That political response which a Labour government should implement as a matter of priority should involve at least 3 elements. It should exclude private equity from the control of care homes, or better still transfer care homes from the private sector back into public ownership as the only way to restore the vocational quality of care and altruism. It should impose, and crucially enforce, a living wage of at least £7.65 an hour for all care workers. And it should legislate to ensure a significant worker/trade union stake in the management of all care homes to ensure that care workers are properly represented and valued for the crucial service they provide.