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The crisis in our homecare system is a source of national shame

Diane Abbott 2The UNISON trade union recently launched a new report which uses the voices of care workers – and those who rely on care – to clearly lay out the truth regarding the crisis that has engulfed the sector – a crisis that is not being addressed by the ideologically driven Tory government and its ruinous cuts agenda.

Entitled 15 Minutes of Shame: Stories from Britain’s Homecare Frontline UNISON describes the report as “a compilation of accounts that reveal how poverty pay, zero hour contracts, poor training and rushed visits is having a detrimental impact on vulnerable and elderly care users.”

Over 500,000 adults in the UK rely on homecare workers to get them out of bed, wash them, brush their teeth, help them take their medication and much more.

The reports contents show the seriousness of this situation, which will only get worse as the Government forces more cuts on local authority. To give just one example, in the report, one care worker says “I have been given 15 minutes to go to into his house, wake him up, assist him to the bathroom, give him a shower, help him dry and get dressed and then make his breakfast and make sure he takes his medication. My organiser has been told this takes around 30 to 45 minutes. Her reply was that other workers can do it in this time.”

UNISON argues that “homecare workers are worried. Councils are allowing care providers to cut corners and the elderly and disabled people that need homecare are not getting the support they should,” and that “thousands of care workers are deeply concerned about the state of the care sector in the UK, but many are afraid to speak out publicly as they risk losing their jobs.”

As UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis puts it “the crisis in our homecare system is a source of national shame. Too many homecare workers and too many people who rely on this vital service are routinely being robbed of their dignity. This report captures so much of what is wrong and inhumane about our homecare system.”

I agree with Dave that “the new Government must listen to the voices of the people at the heart of this crisis. We are urging the new minister to work with us as we continue our vital campaign to save our care system.”

As well as running the Save Care Now campaign, UNISON are calling on councils to sign their Ethical Care Charter, a set of commitments that together ensure the health, safety, and dignity of the UK’s most vulnerable people.

If elected London’s mayor, I would use it as a platform to put pressure on the Government on this vital issue and urge London’s councils to sign the charter, following the lead of Islington, Southwark and Camden. Additionally, I would also convene a summit of the key partners in the sector, including London councils and UNISON, to work out a route forward to build the maximum support for the charter and the Save Care Now campaign.


  1. David Pavett says:

    This is a useful reminder of the meaning of the dismantling of the public sphere of social life. It also powerfully highlights the reactionary content of Harriet Harman’s position that Labour should not oppose what the public have (allegedly) vited for.

    I would, however, like to take up what is a side issue w.r.t. this article but is, I think, nevertheless, a matter if importance.

    Diane Abbott refers the the Tory government as “ideologically driven”. I believe that this is an attempt to use the language if the right fir the purposes if the left. My view is that that language is already so philosophically and politically charged that this attempt cannot succeed. To use this language is to adopt, unwittingly no doubt, a right-wing take on politics.

    When the right accuses the left if being “ideological” the meaning is “We see reality as it is through our common sense. You [the left] do not see it because your heads are befuddled with your grand ideas. You see only the ideas not the reality”.

    This criticism is a mainstay of defenders of the status quo. It systematically blocks critical thinking and has an extremely reactionary payload. It is the sort of approach according to which a national budget is like a household budget and which rejects attempts to say otherwise as mere “ideology” getting in the way of “common sense”.

    What does it mean to accuse the government of being ideological? Could it be based on a Marxist notion of ideology as an inverted reflection of reality. I think not (if only debate on the left were at such a point of sophistication!). It is really difficult to see the acccusation than a mere left-wing reversal of the right-wing change i.e. we on the left see things as they are whereas you on the right don’t see it because you have your heads full of ideas that block reality.

    I would like to ask Diane Abbott, and anyone else thinking of accusing the government of being “ideological” to pause and think about the real meaning of the language they are using and where it comes from. They should also ask in what way they see themselves as not being ideological. The left stands no chance of making headway if it does not break with our deeply embedded traditions of empiricism and “common sense”.

    So long as we do not appreciate that the most direct route to understanding reality is through theory and that all shortcuts which bypass theory are illusory. Anyone not quite convinced of this should take a look at Labour’s stance on the economy.

  2. David Pavett says:

    I appreciate that Diane Abbott, unlike the great majority of MPs, quite often replies to points made in blogs to which she has contributed.

    I would be very interested to have her thoughts on the point I have raised above. I fear though that a non- response will tend to confirm a more general norm with (Labour) politicians: if you ask a non-standard and possibly difficult question then you must expect to get either an answer to something else or no answer at all.

  3. Sandra Crawford says:

    I think that there should be an independent enquiry into the care of the elderly. Many private care homes are failing, and I have even heard stories of old people being neglected to an extent that they have developed grade four pressure sores.
    With regard to the fifteen minute visit, this is clearlyjust a way of trying to save money by setting an unrealistic time limit on a job that is taking much longer to deliver. Many Councils are facing swinging cuts of 30-40%, and are being turned into helpless Patsies for the Treasury, rather than a body set up to manage the community and its needs.
    Unison are saying here that “Councils are allowing care providers to cut corners” this may be the case – but how much of this is imposed upon them by the need to make cuts to their budgets? I am told by those who lobby government that they cannot get further funding.

    What needs to happen is that a full enquiry should be presented to Parliament, and MPs should question this policy (fifteen minute shame) if enough evidence is found that it is having a detrimental effect, and the full blame placed at the hands of the government.

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