Low pay “insult” is kick in the teeth for frontline Covid heroes

The decision by Flintshire County Council to base care home fees on paying half the staff the minimum wage is a “kick in the teeth” for the frontline Covid heroes, it’s been claimed.

Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent social care providers, says it’s an affront to care workers who had put their own lives on the line and heroically done their utmost to protect their residents from the deadly Coronavirus pandemic.

In Wales, pay rates for carers are effectively determined by local councils who set the level of fees care homes and domiciliary care companies receive.

Flintshire, along with many other authorities and health boards, use a formula which calculates how much they want to allocate towards all care home costs, including what staff are paid.

As a result, say Care Forum Wales, wage levels have been unfairly suppressed by the local authorities who have managed the budgets for 25 years.

Meanwhile, carers working in in council-owned homes in Flintshire are paid considerably more even if they have no experience or qualifications.

Last year Flintshire Council was named and shamed as one of the “meanest”  local authorities in Wales when it comes to paying care home fees.

An investigation by Care Forum Wales revealed they were in the bottom five worst paying councils in Wales.

It prompted the organisation to launch a campaign to ensure qualified staff who work in care homes and domiciliary care in Wales are paid a minimum of £20,000 a year.

According to Care Forum Wales chair Mario Kreft MBE, the valiant response of care workers in saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic had highlighted their true value and it was high time it was recognised by the authorities who commissioned publicly funded social care.

It was, he said, a “national disgrace” that the 2020 Fair Pay campaign was necessary and it was “bitterly disappointing” that Flintshire County Council had chosen to ignore it.

Mr Kreft: “Twenty or so years ago Flintshire’s rates were among the highest in Wales but they have slid steadily down the league table of shame and are now in the relegation zone.

“It’s part of the increasing North/South divide in Wales with five of the bottom 10 payers being North Wales councils while the highest rates are to be found in South East Wales.

“When they were calculating the fees for the coming year, Flintshire split the staff up so that half the staff are paid the national living wage which is currently £8.72 an hour going up to £8.91 next, while the other half are on a slightly higher rate of £10.21.

“Flintshire’s approach also flies in the face of the recently published Welsh Government White Paper, Rebalancing Care and Support, which says action is needed  in ‘refocusing the fundamentals of the care market – away from price towards quality and value’.

“To put things into perspective the UK Government are charging returnees £175 a night to quarantine in hotels – which clearly does not include the cost of care.

“That works out at £1,225 a week which is nearly double the fee for the most acute level of need in Flintshire for people needing EMI nursing care.

“This is an unforgiveable insult to all the heroic people who have been on the front line throughout the coronavirus. It’s nothing less than shocking.

“Instead of clapping for carers Flintshire Council they are kicking them in the teeth and condemning them to live on low wages which is an absolute scandal.

“They should be treated as national treasures for showing tremendous courage as well as skill and dedication in the face of this frightening  disease during a global pandemic. They deserve so much better.

“And then to add insult to injury they pay their own employees working in care homes at a much higher rate.

“Earlier this month Flintshire advertised for carers at £10.01 to £10.63 – no formal qualifications or experience was required while the vast majority of staff in the independent sector are both qualified and experience but expected to live on a lot less. Surely, this is shameless hypocrisy.

“Carers in the independent social care sector are being treated like second class citizens.

“There is just no justification for this and the people on large salaries who commission these services should hang their heads in shame.

“Surely now we have got to recognise the care sector and particularly social care workers for the incredible value they provide for our communities and our society.

“Like the other key workers like teachers and police officers, social care workers  deserve to be properly paid.

“We have got to make sure that working in social care is a career of the highest value.

“Most of the people in care homes in Wales are publicly funded by local authorities, like Flintshire.

“After 25 years of local authorities managing the market, we have a very fragile sector that was in a critical state even before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“As far as they have been concerned, it’s always been about cost rather than value.

“This is the time for social care to be put on a pedestal alongside the NHS because they are symbiotic – they cannot work without each other.

“People working in social care need to be rewarded like a proper profession instead of being treated like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.”

It was a sentiment echoed by the UK Labour Party’s deputy leader, Angela Raynor MP, is also for an increase in pay for care workers to at least £10 an hour as she says poverty wages in the care sector are not just “morally wrong” but also “holding back our economy”.

Labour analysis shows that increasing social care staff pay to at least £10 per hour would result in rises of up to £3,500 a year, which would help secure the economy and contribute to the post-Covid recovery.

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