Shares rise 18% for firm heavily criticised for its role in contact-tracing system
Exclusive: Matt Hancock is advocate of plan to raise tax to cover cost of care in later life
A new National Care Service could provide the leadership, recognition and identity the sector so desperately needs
With council budgets at breaking point, services need more resources to protect a sector already in crisis
Tens of thousands of NHS workers are struggling to get by on the minimum wage because their private sector employers are failing to match public sector pay rises.
The estimated 100,000 low-paid cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff who work for private contractors in hospitals across England are being treated as “second-class employees”, thanks to a growing pay divide between public and private sector workers, according to the country’s leading health union.
Concerns about the pay gap come ahead of tax and benefit changes in the new tax year, starting this weekend, which have fuelled fears of widening inequality, despite claims by the government that the era of austerity is over.
In today’s Observer, Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said that “adding up all the new tax and benefit changes for the year equals an average £280 income boost for the richest fifth of households, but a £100 reduction for the poorest fifth.
“This year’s income tax cuts are bumper ones for higher earners. If you earn £30,000 you’ll be £73 better off, but make that £327 for those of you on £60,000 – over four times as much. Our lowest 40% of earners will gain precisely zero,” Bell adds.
Last year, as part of a three-year deal negotiated by health unions, the lowest-paid workers in the NHS were given a £2,000 pay rise. But the overwhelming majority of health staff employed on private contracts have not received a penny, Unison says.
The union has called on the government to end the pay divide, which it claims is causing outsourced staff to leave in search of better-paid jobs.
The union wants everyone employed within the NHS to be on at least £9.03 an hour. Currently, Unison says, many staff employed by private contractors are on the minimum wage, which is £8.21, equating to an annual salary of £16,052, or £1,600 a year less than what the lowest-paid worker in the public sector is paid.
The anguish of austerity cuts may have come late to the leafier Conservative-run councils of England but there is no doubt it has arrived. Reflecting on the eye-watering spending cuts stricken county halls must push through this year and next, the Kent county council leader Paul Carter declared to a Tory conference fringe meeting last week that “no Conservative came into local government to do this”. The room, packed with councillors, exploded into applause, accompanied by booming cries of “hear, hear”.
The meeting pulsed with anger, bewilderment, despair, possibly even regret that the austerity chickens have come home to roost in Tory England. Most councillors there would have accepted town hall belt-tightening eight years ago as a necessary obligation at a time of national economic crisis. Few, I suspect, assumed then that their civic duty almost a decade later would be to shut cherished services and strap local government on to the life-support ventilator.
Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty has vividly described “pulverism” – the idea that councils should use financial crises not merely to make savings but to smash up and reshape the public sector – and claims it has gone nationwide.
No it hasn’t, at least not in my experience of working in all kinds of councils around the country over the past decade.
Most councils, far from being ideological about smashing up the public sector, have been trying their best to mitigate the impact of the ideology and policies of austerity that successive governments have put in place since the coalition introduced the first round of cuts in 2010.
In 24 hours’ time, Edith will no longer be able to get out of bed. The 30-year-old has multiple sclerosis, and relies on council-funded care assistants to help her live in her two-bed adapted flat in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
For 18 months, she has managed with only a couple of visits a day: one at 7am, to enable her to get up for work as a chartered accountant, and another at 8.30pm to help her get out of her wheelchair and back into bed. After years of saving hard for her first home and moving out of her parents’, it was meant to be the start of Edith’s life. But in February her care agency struck a blow: owing to staff shortages in her area, they would be ceasing their contract, and giving social services 90 days’ notice. Three months later, with barely a day until her carers leave, the council hasn’t found her a replacement.
Edith is terrified. “Carers helping me out of bed every morning are the fundamental life support which everything else in my life depends on,” she says. “And now it feels like the rug is being pulled out from beneath me.”
The battle under way in the capital should trouble us all. Proponents call it innovation, but I say it’s an assault on the poor
Ministers claim the worst cuts are being offset. In fact, the true beneficiaries are Conservative shires