The scandal of private contracts in the NHS has focused this week on health secretary Matt Hancock’s dodgy dealings during the pandemic.
The high court found Hancock guilty of failing to publish details of contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds for goods and services, including personal protective equipment.
But the private contract scandal is not just about shady deals in the last year. The wholesale privatisation of NHS services has been going on for decades.
Outsourcing giant Mitie runs health service facilities and employs cleaners, porters and kitchen staff at hospitals up and down the country.
The firm has a reputation for paying low wages and poor conditions.
Mitie’s practices are now putting workers—and vulnerable patients—at grave risk of coronavirus.
Workers for Mitie at several London hospitals say they are being denied full sick pay for Covid-19 related absences.
Cleaners and porters who have fallen ill and been forced to isolate during the winter second wave of the virus are getting only a third of their usual pay.
As a result some are returning to work before their self-isolation period is over—and while they are still ill.
“Even when people are going off with suspected Covid-19, they’re being told by managers it’s probably not Covid. ‘Just stay at work. Don’t go off.’
“Mitie management have been saying this,” one worker told the Independent news site.
Since March 2020 NHS guidance has stated that all workers “who have to be physically present at an NHS facility to carry out their duties” must be given full sick pay.
In a letter to NHS Trusts, the chief executive of NHS England said that the government would provide payments for “sub-contractor staff to ensure all sickness absence is covered”.
But in outer west London low paid NHS workers are being forced to get by on statutory sick pay of less than £100 a week.
West Herts NHS said that the government’s financial arrangements changed in the winter and they are no longer obliged to fund proper sick pay for sub-contracted staff.
Mitie, which made £2.1 billion in revenue last year, says, “All colleagues are paid in line with the terms of their contracts.”
Tell that to the scores of health workers employed by the firm to work at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary who are preparing for strikes this Friday and on Monday of next week.
Around 150 Unison and GMB union members are angry that they’ve never received the payments for working unsocial hours that they are entitled to.
That’s despite previous employers, and the local NHS Trust, assuring workers on many occasions they’d get the payments.
“Our members at the hospital feel utterly devalued,” said Unison regional organiser David Atkinson.
“They have risked their lives by working through the pandemic.
“They just don’t deserve to be treated this way.”
Missing meals on Universal Credit
Universal Credit (UC) claimants are missing meals due to lack of money. A survey from the Welfare at a Social Distance project published last week showed how claimants are struggling to survive.
Researchers surveyed over 6,400 claimants between May and June last year. One in six new UC claimants and one in five existing claimants had skipped a meal in the previous two weeks.
Nearly half of new claimants said they’d had problems in claiming benefits.
Over 40 percent of claimants had their payments cut due to “deductions, caps or charges”. Susan told researchers that her benefit doesn’t even cover her rent.
“I tend to juggle things,” she said. “This week I haven’t paid the rent because the gas and electric are due.”
Jacob said being on UC meant “the terms of essential have gone even smaller”. “I’ve not been getting transport,” he said. “I’ve been walking everywhere.”
Claimants’ “strategies” for coping included “borrowing from banks or from friends/family”. Many have been forced to use food banks.
“Even with the £20 uplift, benefit levels are inadequate,” said the report.
The Tories are due to end their temporary £20 a week uplift to UC leaving claimants £1,050 worse off a year.
Campaigners from Disabled People Against Cuts plan a day of action on Monday to demand the Tories keep the uplift.
The action will take place ahead of the budget announcement next Wednesday. People Before Profit has called for action on budget day.
Councils must fight cuts
Some two thirds of major councils in England are set to raise council tax in April or make swingeing cuts.
Research by the Mirror newspaper says that 99 of England’s largest councils are planning council tax rises of almost 5 percent—the maximum increase allowed.
Council leaders say they must choose between raising council tax or making big cuts to services due to low funding from central government.
Some councils are planning both. More than half of councils in the Tory-dominated County Councils Network say they are planning “moderate or severe” cuts to adult social care. Many county councils also plan a council tax rise of up to 4 percent.
The Labour Party said the planned tax rises were a “£2 billion council tax bombshell.” But Labour councils have a choice.
They can pass on austerity to ordinary people. Or they can defy the government, refuse to pass on cuts and tax rises, and take the Tories head on.