Few things better illustrate the broken social care system in England than the 170,000 staff vacancies expected by the end of the year.
Rates of pay that hover around the minimum wage are the norm in the industry.
Shifts can be gruelling, involving a great deal of physical labour—as well as the stress of covering for many unfilled vacancies. Many workers report finishing their shifts in a state of exhaustion.
Labour shortages in some other industries are leading to small increases in pay. Many workers in social care are now leaving to find jobs in areas such as warehousing and distribution.
One care home manager said her care home had lost two staff recently to an online retail giant and six to better paid jobs in the NHS. Four people left because they don’t want to have the Covid-19 vaccination that will shortly become mandatory in social care settings.
The government estimates that up to 68,000 social care workers could leave their jobs when the vaccine rule comes into force in November.
But if social care goes into meltdown, the vaccination strategy will only be a small part of what caused the crisis.
Three quarters of care home operators are reporting an increase in staff quitting since April.
There were already estimated to be more than 120,000 social care vacancies before the pandemic.
The National Care Association, which represents care home bosses, says that one in ten posts could be vacant by the end of the year. And that could lead to a meltdown of the whole system.
The care homes staff crisis shows that the system of outsourcing social care to the private sector is unworkable.
Instead, there needs to be a publicly-funding National Care Service that is integrated into the NHS, with all staff earning decent pay.
Labour misses the mood
Labour has tried to avoid a clear call for taxing the rich and big business to pay for the NHS and social care.
Last week the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds said he could not rule out the possibility of Labour supporting a rise in national insurance contributions (NICs).
He said this was “a complicated area”.
Labour might find it complicated because in 2002 Labour chancellor Gordon Brown announced a rise in national insurance that he said would go to the NHS.
The Tories at the time denounced it as “a tax on ordinary families”.
By last Sunday Labour had realised that the NICs rise was unpopular among Tory MPs—who feared a backlash—let alone among ordinary people.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said the “broad principle” of demands for a wealth tax to fund social care reform were “absolutely right”.
Meanwhile Labour leader Keir Starmer found time to tweet tribute “to our brave armed forces” and British sporting successes. He had tweeted nothing about the care plans by Monday morning.
The TUC trade union federation has come out for a wealth tax.
It said that raising Capital Gains Tax is “a much fairer way to fund social care than hiking workers’ and businesses’ national insurance contributions.”
And it calls for an end to wealth and assets being taxed at a lower rate than working people.
That’s right—although the TUC should stop worrying about more tax on businesses.