UNISON Northern Ireland


Today (11 December 2017) the Department of Health has finally published the report of the Expert Advisory Panel on Adult Care and Support ‘Power to People: proposals to reboot adult care and support in N.I.’ which highlights the major problems facing the social care system and makes numerous proposals for reform. 

Responding to the report, UNISON Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown said:

‘‘This report’s findings on the conditions for the workforce in social care totally vindicate the long-running UNISON campaign highlighting the exploitation of workers within the private homecare sector. 

This report states clearly that workers within the sector are being underpaid, undervalued and are being exploited by the system.  This is negatively affecting the quality of care.  It recognises that as the vast majority of care workers are women, and as the majority of care is given to older people, this is a deeply sexist and ageist position to have reached.  The report rightly notes that private providers competing for contracts to provide care on the basis of cost has led to a race to the bottom, which UNISON has observed for many years and which is unacceptable.

The Panel’s recommendation that pay within the sector must be at least a Living Wage must be implemented without delay as the ‘real’ Living Wage, as set yearly by the Living Wage Foundation, not the inadequate minimum wage rates set by the UK Government. 

UNISON will continue to fight for better terms and conditions of employment for workers within the private sector.  We want to see an end to zero-hours contracts, workers being paid their expenses and an end to the practice of 15-minute visits which do not provide adequate care. 

We agree with the Panel that the current ‘market’ of adult care and support is broken and no longer fit for purpose, which has led to a sector of minimum wages and poor working conditions.  Whilst we agree that there must be honest discussions about the true cost of care, any extra money for providers must mean proper pay for the workers.  The goal must be to bring provision of social care back ‘in-house’ within the public sector, to improve the care received by the public, whilst also improving the conditions of the workforce.  UNISON has already led the way in working in partnership with providers to improve conditions for the public and workers, and these models must be mainstreamed. 

We note that the Panel has recommended that charging arrangements should be reformed so that people contribute to the costs of domiciliary care.  Funding is a fundamental issue which must be addressed and we believe that the sector is underfunded.  However, we believe that the fairest way forward would be fund social care through general taxation, with the public funding a truly integrated social care system, provided through the public sector.  The public should not be asked to pay more for a system that is currently broken and in which workers are exploited.  Any proposals on future funding must be based on objective need if we are to tackle poverty and disadvantage faced by older people.

We note that the panel has made a number of other recommendations in relation to issues like the use of self-directed support, the development of a professional body for frontline staff and regulation around the costs of care and issues like pay for workers.  As the largest union within the health and social care system, UNISON already robustly represents workers’ interests and has important contributions to make in these areas.  We expect the Department of Health and the wider health and social care system to fully involve us in any future consultation.

Given the clear recognition by the Panel of the exploitation that workers currently face in the sector, all current processes underway within the health and social care system to purchase domiciliary care should be halted whilst the report’s recommendations are debated and a final strategy is agreed, with core workforce issues addressed at the bargaining table.  No more care should be bought using a broken model.  To this end, UNISON will be meeting with the Department this week.’’