Government must bring back COVID fund to safeguard 'lives and livelihood'
UNISON and the Care Provider Alliance (CPA) have written jointly to Sajid Javid urging him to reinstate COVID funding for social care.
The letter to the secretary of state for health and social care says that the government’s decision to end the adult social care COVID infection control fund (ICF) at a time when virus rates remain high is an ‘incredibly dangerous move’ that will ‘cost lives’.
Introduced in May 2020, the £1.75bn fund gave financial support to care providers so they could continue to pay full wages to staff while they were self-isolating. However, funding was stopped at the end of March in a move criticised by UNISON and the CPA, which brings together the ten main national associations representing independent and voluntary care employers.
According to the two organisations, it is ‘beyond belief’ that this ‘vital financial lifeline’ has been cut for low-paid staff trying to protect vulnerable people, ‘particularly during the worst cost of living crisis in over 60 years’.
The letter continues: “The government should be encouraging and rewarding staff for doing the right thing by self-isolating, not making it impossible for them to feed their families. Growing numbers of care workers are being forced to turn to food banks as budgets are stretched to breaking point. Others are having to leave jobs they love in search of better paid and more secure work.”
UNISON and the CPA warn that major worker shortages in the care sector are already ‘undermining the quality of care provided across England’. They also write that this staffing crisis is ‘preventing the discharge of NHS patients back into the community, consequently limiting access to medical services and piling more pressure on the system.’
The letter also highlights that evidence from studies commissioned by the government shows that the prevalence of COVID was higher in care homes and other workplaces where staff did not receive proper sick pay.
The ICF must be reinstated immediately as a step towards ‘improving funding and working conditions in the sector significantly’, says the letter. If this does not happen then even more staff could be driven away from the sector, which will ‘put lives and livelihoods at risk’.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care workers earn little enough as it is. Withdrawing this financial lifeline will have devastating consequences for them and the care sector. Many are already having to resort to desperate measures. The government must reverse its decision and ensure staff don’t lose out if they’re off work with COVID.”
Care Provider Alliance chair Professor Martin Green OBE said: “Social care services protect some of the most frail and vulnerable people. This is why many of the restrictions that have been eased in the rest of society are still needed. The burden on care providers is enormous. They no longer have the resources allocated through the infection control fund, but still face huge costs to comply with regulations. It’s essential that the government reinstate this funding to protect people in social care.”