Here’s another covid-19 clusterf*ck to add to the pile – this one is about careworkers and Statutory Sick Pay:
Someone recently showed me facebook posts in which a ridiculous carehome manager said that they wouldn’t use the government-issued Infection Control Fund to fund full pay for careworkers who were off work and isolating with covid symptoms. As many of you will know, a lot of careworkers are only entitled to Statutory Sick Pay when they’re off sick – SSP being a paltry £95 a week that absolutely nobody can live on. Careworkers certainly can’t live on it and so they go to work when they’re sick. They take illnesses into work with them.
The Infection Control Fund is a £600m whack that Boris Johnson’s dozy government belatedly set aside in May for councils to distribute to carehomes in their boroughs – Matt Hancock or some other Einstein having finally cottoned onto the fact that careworkers with covid-19 symptoms who were only entitled to SSP’s £95 a week would continue to attend work and spread coronavirus, because they couldn’t afford not to.
The idea was that carehomes could use the ICF to (among other infection control measures) pay full wages to careworkers who were off work and isolating with covid symptoms. A far better idea, of course, would be to admit that SSP of £95 a week is an absolute disgrace and to always pay everyone full wages when they’re off sick – with covid or otherwise – but nobody important wants to admit or address that. Elites and employers the world over live in fear that if sick leave pays enough for people to live on, the serfs will simply pretend that they’re ill and groove away on one long beano. This fear is particularly prevalent among care home brass for some reason. They seem to think that inside every careworker is a goof-off just waiting to take the piss and party. Carehomes have been cutting “too generous” sick pay packages for careworkers to the statutory minimum for years.
Thus, the Infection Control Fund – a thin paper to stretch over another yawning central crack. Needless to say, at the local level, interpretations of the use of the ICF have been intriguing – ie absolutely random and often a circus. This ALWAYS happens when government attempts to address a major structural problem (such as Statutory Sick Pay) in a crisis (such as covid-19’s razing through carehomes) by lobbing a handful of cash at it and hoping for the best.
The problem is that you don’t always get the best, no matter how much government hopes for it. The social media screenshots I received of a conversation about the ICF with a carehome manager were certainly an eye-opener. The manager in that dialogue said that they wouldn’t use ICF money to pay full wages for careworkers who were off work with covid symptoms, because it wouldn’t be fair to careworkers who were off sick with illnesses other than covid (the ICF is aimed at careworkers with covid symptoms, or who’ve had a positive test, etc). That manager in that post said the choice was a “moral” one – ie that it would be unfair to pay full wages to one group of sick careworkers, but not to another.
As someone who has written about cuts to careworker conditions for more years than I care to recall, I am confident that this argument is a pile. Over a decade on the scene has taught me that finance, as opposed to morals, tends to be the motivation for management actions at carehomes. Let’s think about this for a bit. If careworkers were allowed to isolate at home on full pay for 2 weeks, a carehome would have to find and pay replacement staff. Some councils are apparently helping some carehomes cover some of those costs during covid, but they can hardly all be doing that everywhere (I’ve been checking through council ICF plans to try and understand who is doing what and with what). Then, there’s that ever-present carehome terror of setting dangerous precedents by paying careworkers decent sick pay. If careworkers get to experience decent sick pay once, they might get cocky and ask for it again. They might even demand that all staff receive their full wages when sick, all of the time.
I can only imagine how many carehome managers and owners etc have quietly sweated at the thought of giving too much of the ICF to staff. People have actually tried to find out how things are going on that front, but feedback to date has been a bit hard to come by. Exactly one month ago, for example, Barnet Unison wrote to 69 care settings in the Barnet borough to ask whether ICF money was being used to top up pay for careworkers with covid symptoms. The union’s branch secretary told me that as of early last week, the union had received one reply.
Councils, needless to say, report that they’re putting the hard word on carehomes to do the right thing (ie pay full careworker sick pay) with the Infection Control Fund monies that councils parcel out – some councils are apparently putting in place systems where carehomes must invoice them with specifics for ICF payments and so forth. The problem is that things haven’t always run quite as seamlessly as all that. Local union offices have had to lean on councils to make sure that carehomes give ICF money to careworkers.
Islington Unison, for example, had to push Islington council very hard for weeks to get the council to agree to make sure that ICF money went to careworkers. You can see from last week’s Islington health and care scrutiny committee meeting (pdf page 55) that some very senior Islington councillors initially said that the council couldn’t tell carehomes how to spend ICF money. Islington council executive member for social care Janet Burgess actually emailed the union to say that: “despite the Government claiming it as extra funding for councils, the additional £600 million ring fenced infection control fund to support care homes is in effect an industry fund and not council cash…“ (pdf pg 58). “Feeble” doesn’t begin to describe this approach to making sure that carehomes pay careworkers full wages when they’re isolating.
In the same report, the union also pointed out in that contrary to the council’s own rather upbeat take on the topic, coverage of full careworker sick pay in workplaces in the borough was still dire in places. The union noted, for example, that councillors’ own emails stated that “staff working for Forest Healthcare, which provides 129 beds in the borough, only receive SSP,” and that staff who were employed by Barchester Healthcare and were isolating only received an additional sum of £13.50 per day – “somewhat short of being full sick pay.” Apparently, the council has had a rethink about things and said at the scrutiny meeting that carehomes must now absolutely comply with ICF conditions if they are to get any more ICF money. Took a while, but they got there in the end, I guess. What a clown car, though, and who needs another of those. Why such a bureaucratic tangle on such an important issue?
I answered that question earlier of course. The muddled thinking, extra layers of bureaucracy and senior people talking endless “not me, guvnor,” shite described at Islington are par for the course when an event such as coronavirus exposes heinous structural problems which useless governments like Boris Johnson’s try to address on the fly. Let’s say it again – the real problem is that Statutory Sick Pay is garbage and that low-paid workers are excluded from the decent sick pay packages that others enjoy as a matter of course. That’s the real disaster. That’s the scandal. It has been for YEARS.
My 2020 book “Abusing Power” is a collection of interviews with people who needed benefits and housing help in austerity. The book goes behind the scenes to jobcentre & homelessness meetings and shows how people’s experiences of the austerity state shaped their politics and thinking. Contact me for a pdf copy.