Social care change needs to start here

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I write in response to Call for action on social care crisis in town (Mail, February 9).

As a concerned member of the public, I attended the adult services committee meeting on February 2.

At this meeting the approximately 5,000 hours of care that Hartlepool Borough Council is responsible for providing each week were discussed.

The position our Labour council took was that those vulnerable people’s lives, now dissected into care hours, would best be served by contracting out the responsibility to private business, offering their care staff zero-hours contracts.

This point was argued for at length, with the justification of flexible working conditions for the staff providing that vital care being cited.

A contracted, zero-hours workforce is already the manner in which care is provided to the most vulnerable of the town.

The 5,000 hours are undertaken by approximately 600 contract staff, giving an average of 8.33 hours’ work to each member of staff each week.

This practice creates a working environment where the employee is never sure of their future financial situation from one week to the next.

An environment where staff are forced to work all the hours offered for fear of not receiving more should they refuse or try to work flexibly.

In 2012, UNISON, the public service union, conducted a survey of 431 home care workers which the council is now, five years later, saying it will use to inform its future decisions concerning care.

The report highlights how poor terms and conditions for workers can help contribute towards lower standards of care for those vulnerable people using the service.

Of the respondents, 79.1% reported their work schedule is arranged in such a way that they either have to rush their work or leave the client early to get to their next visit in time.

A total of 57.8% of respondents were not paid their travelling time between visits.

Over half reported that their terms and conditions had worsened over the last year; 52.3% said the concerns they reported about their clients were only sometimes acted upon.

And 41.1% were not given specialist training to deal with their clients’ specific medical needs, such as dementia.

What the vulnerable of our society require is continuity of care especially when that care is preformed in the person’s own home.

What the care workers for these people require is also continuity, in the form of proper contracts, terms and working conditions.

With 5,000 hours to spend on care, a dedicated and properly trained workforce is achievable.

Yet still our Labour-council argues for zero-hour contracts, even in light of a report to the contrary that it introduced and an overall rating of “requires improvement” by the Care Quality Commission.

In the February 9 article, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher stated: “The Government really needs to take responsibility and sort out the national social care crisis.”

Resolving many of the current issues with the care industry starts with respecting the staff and vulnerable you serve,

One does this by offering the staff caring for those people job security and a known future.

The change needed must begin locally first.

Dominic Sherwood,

Bruce Crescent,