Politics

Social care in crisis as stressed and angry workers demand: 'End this nightmare'



Social care is facing the worst workforce disaster in living memory as exhausted and underpaid carers quit the profession in their tens of thousands.

A catastrophic cocktail of low wages, staff burnout, mandatory Covid jabs and post-Brexit immigration rules has brought the industry looking after our old and vulnerable to its knees.

But today the Sunday Mirror declares enough is enough as we launch a campaign to end the looming destruction of social care in Britain.

We want an end to:

Wrung-out skilled carers switching jobs to become delivery drivers, supermarket staff, Amazon workers, because, shamefully, the money is better.

We want an end to:

An astonishing 120,000 jobs in social care in England remaining unfilled – with 42,000 unvaccinated care workers set to leave in weeks under the Government’s “no jab, no job” rule.

We want an end to:

Three out of four homes reporting an increase in staff exits. That’s the way it’s been since April. Surveys say half quit due to stress – and 44% found better pay elsewhere.

We want an end to:

Homes forced to choose between moving residents out or closing – like Barrock Court, near Carlisle, which shut this month after attempts to recruit new employees failed.

Our Stop The Care Crisis campaign calls on the Government to no longer treat care workers as second-class staff compared to the NHS.

We call on Boris Johnson, and health and social care secretary Sajid Javid to pledge:

  • An immediate review into pay, bringing care into line with similar NHS roles.
  • A professional register for care workers in England as other UK countries have.
  • The addition of care to the Shortage Occupation list so migrant staff can fill vacancies.
  • An end to unpaid travel time for home care workers. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth backed our campaign saying: “It’s time we cared for carers as they care for us.”

Despite skill and dedication, the average care home worker earns £9.01 an hour – 10p above the national living wage. They take home up to £18,000 a year – £7,000 less than an equivalent role in the NHS, contributing to a staff turnover rate more than double the national average.

Yet we’ll need another 488,000 health staff and 627,000 social care workers to meet demand over the next decade, research from charity The Health Foundation suggests. At Wren Hall home, in Selston near Nottingham, we were told two staff quit after Amazon opened a nearby warehouse. An evening housekeeper on £9.30 an hour now gets £13.50 an hour with the online giant – on top of a £1,000 joining bonus.








We must back our carers
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Image:

Getty Images)



Six other staff there quit for better-paid jobs in the NHS. Wren Hall managing director Anita Astle admitted: “I’ve worked in care homes 32 years and have never known staffing issues like it.”

Some desperate homes are offering cash bonuses to lure recruits. Cumbria Quality Care is handing new starters £150 for joining up. Agincare, with 50 homes, is offering a £500 welcome bonus. It has 340 vacancies listed online.

Staff turnover across care homes is estimated at about 30% and rising. One move that could help fix this would be a care register in England which would help professionalise the industry and the status of workers – as well as helping bring pay into line with the NHS.

The Government could also include all care workers on the Shortage Occupation list used to grant visas and reduce the qualifying salary level from the £25,600 currently required for the recruitment of overseas care workers. The list, as it stands, includes only care managers and senior care staff.





Meanwhile, waiting lists for care in England have soared to 300,000 – a rise of 26% in three months, says the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. An insider at a leading care group predicted dramatic hikes in council tax to fund social care shortfalls. They warned: “Operators are seeing councils not placing people in homes as they think staff numbers aren’t enough to support further admissions. More homes could go out of business.”

The social care crisis is not just restricted to homes. With more unable to take patients, the NHS – which has a treatment waiting list of 5.6 million – faces a knock-on beds crisis.

And shortages in domiciliary care are rising. Around 200 patients are blocking hospital beds in Cornwall despite being fit to go home.

In Norfolk, blocked beds are set to rise “significantly” with hospitals unable to discharge patients due to lack of home care. Dr Sanjay Kaushal, co-director of Norfolk Care Association, said: “We are waiting for a train crash” adding carer shortages will be “the difference between life and death” for some.




The crisis in domiciliary care is made worse by more than half of councils in England refusing to insist providers pay care workers for travelling time between visits, Unison union research reveals. It means many home care staff end up on less than the national living wage. Then there is the threat to safety. Staffing shortfalls have triggered concerns at two care homes previously ranked “Good”. Little Oyster Home in Sheerness, Kent, and Seven Gables on the Isle of Wight were ordered to improve by the Care Quality Commission. An inspection of Little Oyster in July found “every area” of care at the 64-bed home had been hit by a lack of staff making it unable to “meet even the most basic of people’s needs”.

One resident said: “This used to be a jolly place. I wanted to die here. Now I want to move.” Little Oyster did not respond to a comment request. Seven Gables was put in special measures after a check found only two carers for 20 residents. New owner Churchlake Care said it was addressing the issues.





The staffing crisis is also hitting families desperate to visit loved ones. After an outright ban in lockdown, many are now being told there aren’t enough workers to handle visits. Coming soon is the shadow of mandatory vaccines forcing workers out. From November 11, all home staff must be fully Covid vaccinated, with no medical exemption. A government decision on making Covid and flu jabs an NHS job condition is likely to be made later this month. The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We appreciate the hard work and dedication of the social care workforce, providers and local authorities working to deliver good quality adult social care through the pandemic and beyond.

“We are providing at least £500 million to support the care workforce. We run regular national recruitment campaigns.”

Facing axe

Kimberlea Steel, 36, says she loves her care home job but has avoided having a Covid jab, fearing it is not safe.

The mum of two said she had watched as colleagues left for better pay in less stressful jobs but hoped there would be a U-turn allowing her to stay.

She said: “It’s infuriating because I love the job. I joined during the pandemic and have given everything to make sure our residents are cared for.

“I’ve got all the qualities to be a carer and I wish I had done it sooner. Now my hand’s being forced and I’ll be out of the door.








Kimberlea says she is being forced out
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Image:

Mark Pinder)



“I’m sad about it. I know there are easier jobs and I could earn more elsewhere, but it’s such a pleasant place.

“I’m hanging on in case there’s a U-turn or delay.

“I get so much fulfilment in the care sector, I don’t want to leave it.”

Kimberlea, from Bedlington, Northumberland, said she left an office job to join her care home in August last year. She is considering cleaning work.

Better off as a delivery man

Carer Shane Finan quit after long hours and low pay took their toll – and now gets “more money and less stress” as a delivery driver.

He said: “It was work, work, work and little pay… then a clap at the end of it.”

Shane, 34, was a part-time domiciliary care worker, visiting elderly clients in the Kirklees area of West Yorkshire. But he was left working seven-day weeks as exhausted colleagues quit.








Shane finds it easier being a driver
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Image:

Shane Finan)



He found himself spending up to 12 hours a week driving between clients, clocking up 200 miles – with neither his time nor petrol paid for.

Shane said: “You’re paid from the minute you arrive to the minute a visit ends. We used have a cup of tea with them – but we had no time in the pandemic.”

Axed over vax

A carer forced out of her job over mandatory vaccines believes vulnerable residents will suffer from worsening staff shortages amid the “no jab, no job” rule.

Charley Walker said she is “disappointed” with how the Government has treated carers who risked their safety in the pandemic.

The 28-year-old mum said: “I’ve worked in care forever and a day, and every year there have been staff shortages, because you’ve got to be a certain kind of person to do the job.”








Charley was forced out over vaccines
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Image:

Charley Walker)



Charley, of Runcorn, Cheshire, opted not to have the jabs as she tested positive for anti-bodies after catching Covid in May 2020.

After leaving last week, she said: “The last two weeks of work I was signed off with stress because it’s my livelihood and I have a three-year-old daughter.”

  • Are you affected by the care home crisis? Call the Sunday Mirror on 0207 293 3601 or email scoops@sundaymirror.co.uk


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