Oct 20

Life Under the 'Clapping for Carers' Radar – Part Three

Posted: 16 October 2020
Dealing with the Long Term Challenges

Tina Turnbull is Chief Executive of People Matters, also holds voluntary roles as an Inclusive Growth Ambassador for Leeds City Council, is a director of Leeds City Credit Union and a governor at a local NHS Trust. In her third blog Tina looks at the long-term post virus implications for organisations like People Matters.

As lock down finished at People Matters we knew we faced safely starting up a whole host of activities up again. As an organisation we also knew we needed to support organisations that were smaller and more vulnerable and have been contributing to cross city work on restarting day care services. No government guidance on that despite the plethora of national guidance generally. I old you in an earlier blog we felt invisible.

Risk assessment and safe ways of working instructions writing went into overdrive. We have been dealing with contracts and rooming just not matching service delivery. It has taken weeks to deal with everything from upgrading our phone system to stop staff sharing, swapping our office and activity rooms to support social distancing to the little things like getting hold of Perspex screens to help open up our office safely (infection control again).

I feel we face a potential complete relocation in the future too . Demand for services has grown with new referrals coming in rapidly now from adult social care for new local authority statutory care. Some people have actually done well during lockdown but many others have struggled.

We are continually wrestling the balance between keeping clinically vulnerable people safe and supporting the rights of members to take part in life, and their community, like everyone else. That’s before we now deal with a growing local outbreak and potentially a second wave this winter. When is it going to be OK to take a group of clinically vulnerable people out to have a meal together? Not yet we have decided, isolated or not. Should we restart face to face care in the home for someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable? Yes, if they need it. How about supporting them to use public transport though? More difficult, how anxious are they, will they do it unsafely without us anyway? So many decisions in this world now.

But we are here to think about the long term. If you look back stories of the challenges of social care organisations have been around in the press for a good long time now. The sector finds it both difficult to carry on, make ends meet and can’t afford to give staff the terms and conditions of employment they deserve. On one hand we are told what we do is ‘low skilled’ on the other hand to meet the breadth of people’s needs the training is frequent and many hold qualifications up to and including degree level. The values of staff like integrity, respect for others, compassion, collaboration and much more are vital. Here, our local authority have been totally supportive within their ability to be so, but the last few years have been difficult.

At People Matters it is cashflow that has been really challenging at times to cope with. Some government agency funding we access as a sub-contractor can take up to 5-6 months to arrive after work has been delivered and evidencing it can sometimes feel more essential than delivering a good service. That strangles us. Its hard to be efficient, responsive and effective when you have to budget, re-budget and re-budget again after every slight change because cash is so tight. I know from spending hours poring over spreadsheets. Now we have seen the annual public sector pay settlement announced. What about social care?

Social care employers need to be consistently able to be good employers, to recruit and keep the staff we all need them to have, and they just can’t afford to be, funding levels and contract conditions just won’t allow it. Here at People Matters 80% of our costs are staff related. At every level of the organisation staff perform wonderfully and are woefully under rewarded. As an absolute baseline we have to be able to pay at least the full living wage, not just the national living wage. We need to offer salaries not zero hour contracts with pay in arrears without causing even more cashflow stress.

 If staff get sick, especially with the virus, it can’t be right to just pay SSP when people have been on furlough with 80% of their salaries. We have only just been able to afford full pay for sick leave and the payment that supports it runs out at the end of August, that support needs to be long term not a one off payment.

Then there is under employment where work is less than 30 hours per week. It can be a problem for employers and staff to deal with due to varying client demand and low margins in organisations. This causes staff to have multiple jobs and therefore increasing the risk of virus transfer.

Next there is property, the rental on our buildings is less than a third of ones just down the road. I’ll leave it to your imagination what the quality is like. You won’t be far wrong, and we bring the most vulnerable people into it too. As a charity at People Matters we manage to do what we can to balance costs and deliver the services people need, we respond to a few of these concerns, but nowhere nearly all.

So where next? I’ve been watching the recent debate about should we be nationalised too. A National Care Service? I feel the brand could help with recognition. The NHS does many wonderful things but that wouldn’t really solve what we deal with on its own. I watch the re-invention of structures in the NHS every few years and how it solves some issues and creates others.

The advantage at the moment is that we are SMEs with various legal structures, fleet of foot, flexible, responsive, led by our members, our community of interest. It makes us who we are, person centred, we support people not treat bodies. They are our members, our relationships are long term. We have to make these work well, or people go elsewhere. In short we care.

So in the end I think it finally comes back to our values and what sort of country do we want? We need to put enough resource and recognition into social care so it can do its job well supporting the vulnerable, whether that’s the old, those with disabilities, mental health challenges or more such as substance abuse recovery or domestic violence.

Isn’t it all really about promoting an equal and just society and the time to do that, if ever is now, so take us off the too difficult pile please. The failure really isn’t here, get beyond debating legal structures, we still await the response to all that clapping.