Thursday, March 01, 2007

People before profit in the Home Care Service

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Bristol's plans to privatise its Home Care Service are not in the best interests of those cared for or of the caring staff. Private companies are motivated primarily by profit and I personally feel that, like health and education, there should be no place for private profit making in home care.

The priority for the care of vulnerable people must be what is in their best interests, not what provides a private profit. Elderly people should receive services helping them stay in their own homes as long as possible but for some people this option is neither safe nor what they want. For these people we need good quality residential care.

Economies in the Health Service and in council budgets mean there's less residential care available, and that has meant a huge strain on the Home Care Service. This is not the time to weaken it, as the Liberal Democrat Cabinet wishes, by privatising it. Home Care is not a consumer product that can be bought on special offer from a shop, though I heard words to that effect from a Lib-Dem spokesperson when I was observing the recent council meeting on setting a budget.

The private sector will, by its nature strive to deliver services more cheaply. How? By driving down staff pay and conditions over time. Carers both in Home Care services and Residential Homes are already poorly paid and as a result it is often difficult to recruit suitable staff or to keep staff. Many Homes now are staffed largely through agencies. That is expensive for the council and means residents often have little continuity of care and a poorer chance of building good relationships with the workers they depend on.

There is also the issue of equal pay. Caring work is mainly done by women, and as such is often very poorly paid. The women who carry out this type of work are usually very committed to their clients and so put up with poor pay and conditions of service, but it is not right that as a society we reward them so poorly for such essential work. Fair pay is less likely to happen in the private sector where often profits depend on getting the work done as cheaply as possible.

And what about the issue of quality of service? Vulnerable people should be cared for by staff who are properly trained, managed and supported. Short cuts in this area are ethically unacceptable. Isn't it about time we did right by the elderly and other vulnerable people?