Forcing frontline staff to bear the brunt of social care cuts is not a long term solution.
Voluntary sector providers of care and support services for people with disabilities have recently implemented cost cutting measures after the City of Edinburgh Council cut funding by 10% in early 2011. Now a race to the bottom is developing as organisations try to put themselves in a ‘competitive’ position ahead of further funding cuts expected in 2013.
In 2009 the City of Edinburgh Council attempted to sell off housing support services for people with disabilities through a flawed tender process. In early 2010 the process was finally stopped after legal challenges and a hard fought campaign by service-users, workers and advocacy groups. 18 months later Choices Care, the private company that stood to win the biggest contract, went bust demonstrating just what happens when companies try to deliver services at cut price rates.
After the failed tender process the Council imposed a 10% cut in funding on existing voluntary sector care providers with many organisations voluntarily making further cost cutting measures.
This has caused major attacks on pay and conditions of care and support workers that seriously threaten the future of the social care workforce. While employees of most organisations have been denied pay rises for a number of years others have recently suffered pay cuts. UNISON members at one social care provider recently calculated that their pay has lost 15% of its value in 6 years.
Elsewhere working hours have been increased, sick pay cut and annual leave reduced.
Another strategy to seek savings from frontline staff has been the cutting of overtime pay to below regular wage levels coupled with staff only being offered 30 hour contracts. In this set-up services are deliberately left short-staffed while workers are given the opportunity to make their hours up to full time by working an extra shift for less money and with no holiday or sick pay.
Initially such measures seem successful to the management of voluntary sector organisations. Extensive savings are made at the expense of frontline staff while the personnel and the structure of the service remain the same. In this way many organisations have retained their excellent care commission gradings.
But care and support workers are being forced to subsidise the service they provide – twice! We all pay for vital services through taxation. Now, as budget cuts are implemented, the workers, already on low incomes, are being forced to fill the funding gap through cuts to pay and conditions.
This is not a long term solution. Most care and support workers care deeply about their work and are desperately trying to deliver the same quality of service under increasingly difficult conditions.
The early 2000s saw adequate funding lead to a well trained, experienced and well resourced workforce achieving a very high standard of care in Edinburgh.
However, as training budgets are cut back and more and more of the social care workforce is pushed towards poverty by attacks on pay and conditions the chances of retaining and developing good quality, experienced and well trained staff are fading.
The future of care for people with disabilities in Edinburgh looks set to face a chronically underfunded, low paid, unskilled and understaffed workforce trying to do what should be considered one of the most important jobs in any ‘civilised’ society.
This does not bode well for the people with physical disabilities, learning disabilities or mental health issues that depend on these services.