We welcome the long-awaited publication of the report into the treatment of lower-paid ethnic minority workers in health and social care by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, released last week (9 June) along with a detailed set of recommendations for UK Government.
The poorer outcomes for ethnic minority workers detailed in the report are shocking, but unfortunately not surprising.
The recommendation to register care workers in England is actionable and would align with policy in the devolved nations. We support this approach as it would not only support better workforce data, planning and professionalisation, leading to better outcomes for all care workers, but would recognise their valuable contribution to society. Registration would inevitably lead to improved understanding of employment rights and give care workers a voice, so that abuses of the kind detailed in this EHRC report are easier to monitor and address with commissioners and providers.
We support calls for improved workforce data which is a particular problem in adult social care – without a People Plan or Staff Survey as in the NHS it is difficult to understand the scale of the problem. A solution around this data collection suitable for the care sector must be found as soon as possible.
Additionally, formal pay data as it relates to care workers, whether commissioned-out or outsourced, would support workforce planning and highlight where services are being commissioned for an unfair price. We cannot allow workers to pay the price for unfair commissioning, especially when LAs and Central Government have been repeatedly told that funding levels are not sufficient.
We welcome the recommendations relating to the new role of the CQC who will provide oversight of local authority duties under the Care Act. Treatment of care workers must be central in assurance frameworks and impact on overall ratings, or else they may effectively sanction the poor outcomes for lower-paid ethnic minority workers detailed in the report. The role of the regulator in tackling inequality should be clear and well-defined, and government must commit to take action against providers and local authorities who continue to perform badly.
The report highlights the need to understand the issues around ‘one-sided flexibility’ as regards zero hours contracts, but this must involve listening to care workers. It is imperative that workers are the focus of any consultation exercise – flexible arrangements can support those with additional care duties at home and there is unlikely to be a one size fits all solution. Care workers should be given a choice of minimum hours or zero-hours contracts. Insecure employment and unfair contracting is about more than minimum hours, and we would urge the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to consider how charities and trade unions can contribute to these enquiries and provide access to the experiences of frontline workers.
The findings of this report are deeply troubling, and yet the challenge is not new to the sector. For too long poor practices in adult social care have been allowed to continue largely unchecked, and we know that care workers lack the safety net and protections given to their counterparts in the NHS. We support all the EHRC recommendations and urge a swift and comprehensive response by DHSC, CQC and Local Authorities with clear actions and timeframes for implementation. We hope that independent care providers with responsibility for commissioned-out services take decisive action to address bullying, harassment and unequal treatment. Only if all parts of the system accept their role in promoting equality do we stand a chance of addressing the systemic racism and discrimination highlighted by the EHRC.
Are you a lower-paid, ethnic minority worker who needs support with cost-of-living? Contact our Grants Team through our website to find out what’s available: https://www.thecareworkerscharity.org.uk/contact/
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