Union leader: ‘Our social services are on their knees’

There is a crisis in the nation’s social care system after “years of chronic underfunding” which has “left many parts of the service on its knees”, according to the head of one of the country’s largest public service workers’ unions.

We live in a society which does not value enough its nurses and care workers

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, represents tens of thousands of NHS staff and care workers.

In an article written ahead of the autumn conference season – the Labour Party’s conference gets underway in Brighton this weekend – Prentis says that while the underfunding of the NHS has been a campaigning issue for decades, “the situation is even worse in social care”.

Prentis says that his members “are dedicated public servants who are committed to the job and doing their best every day for the patients and service users they care for, often under unbearable levels of pressure and stress”.

Since the publication of the Ofsted report on Croydon’s failing children’s services, Inside Croydon has been contacted by dozens of readers who have related failings in other aspects of the council’s social care provision, including in adult social care and educational special needs.

Inside Croydon has reported how Croydon’s children’s services is the 16th local authority to be issued an “inadequate” Ofsted report for its children’s services since June 2016. In the past 18 months, other south London councils, in Lambeth, Wandsworth and Bromley, have also been handed “inadequate” Ofsted reports. In neighbouring Bromley, it led to the resignation of the Tory-controlled council’s leader.

Croydon’s NHS, meanwhile, has been in a state of near-permanent crisis, with the Department of Health placing hospital management at Mayday in special measures because of failures to manage a budget which has been stretched to breaking point by increasing demands and staff recruitment issues.

Prentis’s article suggests that the experience of failing social services, placed under ever-increasing pressure because of dogmatic changes imposed on the benefits system, is common across the country.

Writing in the Morning Star, Prentis, says, “Crisis is an overused word, but sometimes nothing else will do. Our health and social care services have been operating in crisis mode for so long that it risks becoming a permanent state of affairs.

Social care is in crisis, says Dave Prentis

“Starved of the necessary resources and repeatedly threatened by privatisation, our NHS struggles valiantly to maintain the high standards that have made it the envy of the world.

“The situation is even worse in social care. Years of chronic underfunding have left many parts of the service on its knees.

“The elderly and vulnerable are failing to get the support they need, while staff are left exposed to exploitation by unscrupulous employers in a shockingly under-regulated system.

“The time has come to say enough is enough.”

Prentis says that, “the impact on services and the workers providing them has become intolerable”. He maintains that there is a shortage of staff, and that this situation is likely to get worse because of the impact of Brexit on staff from the EU.

“Despite warm words, mental health services continue to be cruelly overlooked, creating further problems elsewhere in the system,” Prentis says.

Prentis calls for an end to the “punitive public-sector pay cap”, which has also adversely affected staff recruitment in the NHS, the restoration of the training bursary for students wishing to go into nursing, and also “an urgent rescue package for the social care sector, where funding is desperately needed”.

With “sleep-in payments” for care workers suspended by this government, Prentis writes: “It is truly shocking that in 2017, far from talking about the living wage, Unison is having to fight the government to even get staff the absolute bare minimum that the law says they deserve.”

Prentis ends his rallying call by stating, “Where change is just a smokescreen for cuts, privatisation or attacks on staff, unions must respond decisively to defend jobs and services.”

More on the crisis in Croydon children’s services:

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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