Update September 1: More careworkers to take strike action – workers at the Your Choice Barnet company on September 8 and 9:
Video I took last year: people with learning difficulties and their families yell at the Your Choice Barnet board as the board refuses to discuss attacks on careworkers’ wages and walks out of a meeting:
Unison careworkers who work for the outsourced Your Choice Barnet company will take strike action on September 8 and 9 with another four days of action to follow.
Your Choice Barnet careworkers are fighting a harsh 9.5% pay cut imposed by private sector management. Like the striking Doncaster careworkers in the video below, the Barnet Your Choice careworkers provide services to people with learning difficulties. Those services were transferred into a local authority trading company by Barnet council in 2012.
Last year, Alan White and I wrote a detailed story for the New Statesman about that failed Barnet privatisation of services for people learning difficulties.
Your Choice Barnet was originally set up by the council as part of the so-called Barnet Group – a trading company which would “provide” housing and services for adults with disabilities. The council had the wild, and entirely unsubstantiated, idea that the company could make a profit and that people with learning difficulties would pay to come from all over London to use this Barnet service.
John Sullivan, the father of Susan Sullivan, a woman with Down’s Syndrome who relied on Barnet services for people with learning difficulties, told us that the name Your Choice was very ironic indeed:
“There was no consultation. We expected letters and so forth: in fact we never got a single phone call to tell us what was going on… The first meeting for residents was a disaster. It was clear there was no structure – Susan would be dragged around a series of shops and garden centres [for something to do]. She needs two things – continuity, and her friends: the people she’s been friends with since they were kids.”
John described the company’s claims that it could make a profit as “mental masturbation.” He was absolutely right. The promised profits never materialised. Instead – true to private sector form – Your Choice Barnet presented staff with plans to slash their wages last year. Your Choice Barnet said the wages cuts were necessary to keep the company competitive.
The Doncaster careworkers below are hearing the same thing from Care UK, their private sector employer. The Fremantle careworkers, another group of Barnet careworkers who I wrote about in detail here, were told the same thing. They lost their weekend enhancement pay – the extra money that made carework possible to live on as a job – and had their sick leave reduced to the statutory minimum.
This is why carework is in such dire straits. Services are outsourced to the private sector, which sets about grabbing cash by slashing careworkers’ wages to amounts that are too small to live on. We live in an era where already-low-paid workers and people with learning difficulties are considered acceptable collateral in that cash grab.
Orginal post with striking Doncaster careworkers 27 August 2014:
Have more to add to this, but here’s a short post for those who are wondering why it is becoming impossible to make a living at carework:
Today, I spoke with Doncaster careworkers, including Mags Dalton, 44, who were protesting outside Bridgepoint Capital about charming private firm Care UK’s massive cuts to Doncaster careworkers’ wages. The careworkers work with people who have learning difficulties. Bridgepoint is the private equity company that owns Care UK – Mags’ employer.
Mags has lost about £400 a month as a result of those wages cuts and has been on strike for days this year in protest. Now, she’s had to give up her flat because she couldn’t afford the rent any more. She will move back to Newcastle to live with her parents. She will start another job and try to save up to move into another flat of her own at some point.
Mags is one of a number of Doncaster careworkers who have (and are as we speak) taken lengthy strike action in protest at the pay cuts of up to 35% being forced through by Care UK. Careworkers were transferred from the NHS to Care UK when the service was recently outsourced.
True to private sector form, Care UK quickly turned its attention to careworkers’ wages and conditions – wages and conditions which were hardly generous in the first place. Sick leave has been cut to the statutory minimum (the first three sick days must be taken without pay) and weekend and night pay enhancements slashed. New starters begin on £7 an hour – which means, of course, that workers won’t stay if they can find work elsewhere that pays even a little bit better. The pay cuts have hit hard. Mags’ rent was £465 a month and her £400-a-month wage loss put the rent beyond her.
So now, at age 44, she’s got to head home and live with her parents while she tries to save for a new place. She has lived in Doncaster for years: “I made a life for myself in Doncaster with friends that I love and a job that I love. I only signed up for the house a year ago. I moved in on the 26th of June last year and the 25th of June this year, I moved out. How did that happen.”
This is exactly what happened to the outsourced careworkers at Fremantle in Barnet, who I talked with over the course of their months-long strike action several years ago. People who provide (as in work as careworkers) and use social care services are being destroyed by privatisation and it’s been going on for a very long while. Under governments of a variety of stripes, may I add.