The need for social care to be given equal billing with the NHS and to pay carers a decent living wage dominated discussion at a major sector conference.
Speaker after speaker at the 10th anniversary conference for the Independent Care Group (York and North Yorkshire) called for fairer funding for the care of older and vulnerable adults and a better deal for those delivering the care.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu opened the conference at York Racecourse with an impassioned plea for social care workers to be paid the living wage.
“There are benefits to everyone – short term as well as long-term – from introducing the living wage,” he told delegates. “Benefits to the morale of the workers; benefits to the delivery of care for those who need it; benefits in motivated and committed workers for the employers. Paying a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work helps to drive standards higher among those looking after our older relatives, affording them some dignity and independence in their own homes.
“So far all governments have just been applying a sticking plaster to the crisis of low pay, especially among social care workers. Our Government needs to be at the front of the pack and we need to make sure that we seize the opportunity to build a brighter future for the millions of forgotten social care workers who are struggling to make ends meet.”
He echoed the words of Sir Winston Churchill who, in 1909, described it as “a national evil” that some people received less than a living wage for their work.
He called for the end of the anomaly where the accountability of the NHS is the responsibility of the Health Secretary but for social care it lies with local councils.
And he also called for social care commissioners, as well as providers, to be inspected. A plan to give the Care Quality Commission a brief to inspect commissioners was originally included in the Care Bill, but has since been removed.
This was one of the ills facing the sector also highlighted by the Independent Care Group’s chair, Mike Padgham.
“It cannot be right that only half of the social care equation is inspected – we can’t be held responsible for everything,” he told the conference.
Looking back at a decade of the care group, Mr Padgham said little had changed and that the pressures of poor funding, rapidly rising demand, ever-more demanding inspection and an inability to properly reward and recruit staff remained.
“It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing the hardest period the sector has ever faced,” he said.
“I have been in social care myself for 25 years and this is the hardest time I have experienced.”
He said a 2001 Department of Health document, Building Capacity and Partnership in Care, still contained many of the answers, but had been forgotten.
The recent party conferences had failed to address social care but had mentioned the NHS.
“Well I say, invest more in social care and you relieve pressure on the NHS,” he added.
He unveiled the care group’s “mini manifesto” for next year’s General Election, calling for all parties to sign up and pledge to: properly fund social care; support care providing businesses; create a Secretary of State for Social Care and give VAT exemption for social care.
“Let us make social care an election issue and hold politicians to account for how they will care for older and vulnerable adults in the years to come,” he added.
“Then and only then will we start to build a sector we can all be proud of. A sector where everyone who needs care can have it. And a sector where staff are properly rewarded for the hard work they do and paid a proper living wage.
“Despite what they keep telling us, we know that you and your carers do fantastic things, for grateful people, every single day of the year. You deserve better.”
Andrea Sutcliffe, CQC Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, was a key note speaker at the event, bringing delegates up to date with changes to the sector inspection regime that began this month.
She said new inspections put care services up against the “mum test”.
“Is this a service that I would be happy for my mum or anyone I love to use?” she said.
New inspections would be based upon a rigorous registration process, efficient and thorough collection of data and expert inspection – including the involvement of people who are “experts by experience”.
Care providers would be rated ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ following inspection – bringing an end to a time when they either complied or didn’t.
The conference attracted almost 300 delegates – a record for the group.
Other speakers included David Pearson, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care (ADASS); Richard Webb, North Yorkshire County Council Director of Health and Adult Services and Kersten England Chief Executive City of York Council.