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Unions are calling for a range of support for care staff, including extra support for childcare.
Social care providers and unions warned yesterday that a “critical lack” of protective equipment and testing has allowed coronavirus to “sweep through” social care.
In a joint statement – signed by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, UNISON, Unite, GMB and TUC – they said that care workers and residents are still being exposed to unnecessary risk.
UNISON, many of whose members work in the care sector, says its helplines show lack of PPE remains the key concern, followed by insufficient testing. Other issues include getting full pay for staff who have been furloughed; the impact on benefits of staff taking on additional hours during the crisis; access to pay for low-paid and zero-hours workers taking leave or sickness absence due to COVID-19 related issues; access to schools/childcare for key workers; and free parking for key workers.
A significant number of our friends are in the care sector. My partner works in social care and, while he is on leave at the moment, there is talk of redeployment, although no clarity of what that might entail or whether, if it is to frontline duty, workers will get PPE. He knows carers who have died. You can go on about heroes for all you like, but no-one willingly puts themselves in danger if they can avoid it.
We are getting a lot of questions from key workers who are absolutely terrified about the risk they are taking just by going to work and the risk they are putting their kids in. Quite a number are also worried that taking their kids to school or nursery with other frontline children is making things more risky for them. Some have made the difficult decision to live apart from their children to protect them, but not everyone can.
Some employers are behaving well in this crisis; some badly; and many are simply trying to get through it under enormous stress which can mean that staff well being is fairly low down the priority list.
We have been trying to highlight good practice, but it is also important to address those who fall well short.
One pharmacy worker wrote of how she became ill and was not even offered sick pay. She said: “I got very ill. My company do not care; there is no sick pay, no furlough. Save the NHS? To do so, you must save the NHS staff first. We are lambs to the slaughter.”
Urgent action is clearly needed in terms of protecting staff, but also on all the other issues listed by Unison. One interesting recent development on the childcare front was the Welsh government’s decision to provide free preschool care to key workers through suspending payments to new starters on the Government’s subsidised childcare offer this term.
Many key workers are complaining to us that they normally use grandparents for childcare to cut costs and cannot afford nursery fees or that their nursery is shut and they are having to pay a retainer and therefore cannot afford to pay another nursery on top of that. The Welsh scheme seems a welcome one. More needs to be done, and faster, to help relieve at least some of the terrible pressure on frontline workers.
*Unison has produced lists of frequently asked questions on its website and this is being regularly monitored and updated.