North West councils under pressure to back care workers who are struggling to stop the spread of COVID-19

Councils in the North West have been criticised by UNISON North West for not protecting care workers in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.

UNISON has called on councils to take decisive action in the week that Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that more than half of all UK coronavirus deaths are now taking place in care homes.

Local care workers have told the union that they have been forced into poverty due to the lack of sick pay for staff who need to self-isolate or shield during the ongoing pandemic. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is just £95 per week and care workers told UNISON that this is simply not enough money to get by.

ONS figures have also shown that care workers are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than other front-line healthcare workers, sparking questions about whether care workers who do not receive sick pay are putting themselves and vulnerable residents at increased risk by attending work whilst unwell.

A Bolton based care worker said: “There are a lot of staff with a cough who are still working. I feel they should have been sent home.

“I have asthma so I am considered at higher risk if I get the virus. I’ve told my employer about this but nothing has been done. I’m really worried.

“Care workers with underlying health conditions are not being given the option to shield and I’ve heard of some companies even using disciplinary action to force people back into work.”

Another carer, who works in St Helens said: “I haven’t got enough essential PPE at work. I’m struggling mentally as my children are at home looking after each other, whilst I work. I’m a single parent and I’m really worried about paying the bills if I do have to go off due to COVID-19 and only receive SSP.”

2800 care workers responded to a UNISON North West survey, which reveals the lack of support for care staff during the ongoing public health crisis. 8 out of 10 care workers surveyed believe they will not be paid their normal wages if they have to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

A large majority of the care workers surveyed by UNISON North West said that their employers were not doing enough to keep them and the people they care for safe.

The survey is part of UNISON North West’s Care Workers Vs COVID-19 campaign, which sets out to ensure that care staff can protect themselves at work and come together to secure the resources they need to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Halton, Sefton, Cheshire West and Chester, Knowsley, Trafford and Manchester City Councils have signed up to the Care Workers vs COVID-19 pledge, which guarantees sick pay for local care workers, whilst Liverpool City, Cheshire East, Wirral and Salford City Councils have agreed similar sick pay schemes through negotiations with UNISON.

But Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bury, Cumbria, Lancashire, Oldham, Rochdale, St Helens, Stockport, Tameside, Warrington and Wigan Councils have come under fire for refusing to commit to protecting their care workers and local service users.

Charlotte Nichols, MP for Warrington said: “I cannot commend our care workers enough for the vital job they do in the most trying of circumstances.

“It has been heart-warming to see people up and down the country pay tribute to our care workers every Thursday evening, but these vital public servants deserve so much more than applause.

“I call on all North West councils, including my own to protect care workers by signing up to the Care Workers vs COVID-19 pledge.”

UNISON North West Regional Organiser Dan Smith said: "Care workers are on the front-line in the struggle against COVID-19.

"The reality is they are twice as likely to die from the virus than other healthcare workers. How much of that is because of inadequate PPE or a lack of sick pay that prevents them from self-isolating or shielding when they need to? No-one should have to choose between their own health or hardship. 

“The Government’s new £600m Infection Control Fund provides funding which local authorities can use to ensure care workers get their normal wages if they have to self-isolate. In addition, it’s clear that social care workers are eligible for the Government’s job retention scheme if they need to shield due to a health condition. This means that the cost to councils of guaranteeing full normal pay for all care workers that are absent due to COVID-19 is significantly reduced.

"Nine councils across the NW have shown that it is possible to take action to protect the livelihood of our social care heroes, it's time for all other councils in our region to step up and make the same commitments.”

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