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Poor pay and vaccination rule could fuel care crisis in Solihull

Care staff in Solihull are quitting to take jobs in pubs and shops with 400 posts already vacant and warnings of a looming crisis this winter.

Trade union Unison has blamed poor pay and working conditions for driving ever more people to leave a profession that has been pivotal during the pandemic.

There is also concern more staff could head for the exit over compulsory Covid jabs – with all care home staff and volunteers needing both shots by November 11.

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The council is said to be working with operators ahead of the deadline to identify any issues.

Unison branch secretary David Williams this week suggested the strain of the past 18 months and the mandating of vaccines could prove equivalent to “throwing a grenade into a crowded room”

Speaking ahead of a council debate on recruitment, he feared it would be an incredibly hard period ahead for a sector that has struggled for years to fill roles.

A report on the local situation said current vacancies were “significant but not insurmountable” and set out plans to attract more people.

The new workforce strategy is set to be signed-off in early 2022, to help ensure sustainable staffing for the sector over the next five years.

The government has made it compulsory to have all care home staff and volunteers fully-vaccinated within a couple of months.

Although Mr Williams feared that an immensely difficult few months lay ahead.

“This has been a crisis that has been building for several years, but Covid-19 has brought it all to a head,” he said.

“It would seem a much, much better proposal to go and work in Solihull town centre or Chelmsley town centre than working as a domiciliary carer.

“Especially in the last year with having to wear all the PPE, facing the danger of infection and not being paid very much.

“Any sensible person may well think ‘if I can get out of this and go and work in a shop’ then why wouldn’t I?”

The average private sector care worker in Solihull is on £9.39 per hour, less than half the borough-wide average.

Around one in five employed in the sector are on zero-hours contracts, although this is slightly less than the quarter nationally.

“What we have seen in the last 18 months is the jobs that are really important to society – the cleaners and the carers – aren’t valued,” said Mr Williams.

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“I think it’s going to be a really, really difficult winter for a lot of vulnerable people, because there are not enough people in the system to attend and give care to them.”

With Solihull’s population ageing – in the next decade the over 85s will grow as a group at almost 10 times the rate of those who are younger – Mr Williams warned that far more people were needed just to “stand still”.

He suggested that the council could bring more pressure to bear on private providers to improve pay and conditions, since it can often “hold the purse strings” in terms of contracts.

Although he also acknowledged many of the issues, such as the law on sick pay or the policy around compulsory vaccines, were decided nationally.

At last night’s health and adult social care scrutiny board, councillors were briefed on the plans to encourage more people to become carers and improve retention of existing staff.

There was widespread admiration for the efforts of employees during the pandemic, although it was recognised the job “wasn’t terribly well-paid”.

Council officer Karen Murphy accepted some staff had been lost to the NHS, while others had opted for work that is “less demanding, less exposed.”

But she said the recruitment strategy would hope to promote the role to people ranging from school-leavers to those with previous work experience or perhaps a background acting as as informal carer.

“It will build on the work that we have already been doing.

“It will build some ambitions for the future and we hope it will help to focus attention on a sector that has delivered brilliantly during the pandemic.

“And really needs to recruit some of our brightest and best – of all ages.”

Cllr Rosemary Sexton, the Green Party’s health spokeswoman, said there was concern that the opportunity for “real, meaningful” reforms to social care seemed to be slipping away – but said this was a national challenge.

“It’s a crying shame and a massively missed opportunity that it looks like we are not going to see that coming forward yet again.”

NHS staff and members of the public taking part in a "Clap for Our Carers" event in May 2020 in London
Solihull and the wider country clapped for carers, but councillors stressed the importance of concrete measures to make staff feel valued.

While Cllr Richard Long (Lib Dem, Elmdon) welcomed work to promote career pathways, but said it was also important to ensure good conditions for those at all levels of the pyramid.

“You’ve got a lot of people at the bottom,” he said.

“We have absolutely got to make sure that the people at the bottom of the structure, who largely provide the frontline care, are receiving pay and conditions that actually make that a worthwhile position.”

Cllr Martin McCarthy, who chaired the meeting, said it was important that all staff felt valued.

“The intention is that they should be happy where they are, because in my view a happy employee provides a good service and a happy service user.”

In numbers:

  • Over 6,000 care jobs in Solihull
  • 86 per cent of the workforce is female
  • Vacancy rate of 6.6 per cent (around 400 jobs)
  • Turnover rate of 31 per cent a year
  • 66 per cent stay within the sector but change employer
  • 2,000 extra care workers needed by 2035
  • 93 per cent of staff have had one Covid vaccine and 82.6 per cent two
  • Average earnings are £9.39 an hour vs Solihull average of £23.09.




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