Concern as care staff’s pay and conditions slip

CARE staff employed by voluntary organisations risk joining the most vulnerable in the UK, due to a “hollowing out” of employment conditions in recent years, a Scottish researcher has claimed.

Dr Iain Cunningham, of the Department of Human Resource Management at Strathclyde Business School, said the changes had come as commissioners such as local authorities drove down costs.

Whereas historically, those working for charities providing care services on behalf of the state could have expected equivalent terms and conditions to their counterparts in the public sector, a report from the university says that is no longer the case.

Voluntary organisations now provide more than a third of Scotland’s publicly funded registered care services. However, intense and sustained pressure to cut costs means that very few voluntary care organisations now retain any link with public sector conditions of service, it argues.

Instead there have been widespread job losses and pay freezes in the sector. Other cuts to terms and conditions include pensions, sick leave entitlement and unsocial hours payments.

Women workers have been the primary victims of the bulk of the cuts, the report notes.

Dr Cunningham surveyed 71 organisations in Scotland, employing around 21,500 staff between them – just over a third of the voluntary sector social services workforce.

He found that over the last three years, 79% of voluntary sector care organisations had been unable to award a cost of living rise to staff equivalent to those paid in the voluntary sector.

Pay freezes had been implemented by 57%, 44% had made redundancies, and only 15% retained any link with public sector pension arrangements.

Worryingly, 73% of organisations reported that they had to raid their reserves to maintain services and two-thirds had cut their training budget. Meanwhile 56% said they had plans to cut back on training in the future.

Dr Cunningham said the findings were concerning and raised questions about how quality in the sector could be maintained.

“The voluntary sector workforce is in danger of being dragged to the bottom of the heap of vulnerable workers in the UK,” he said.

“Years of calls for ‘efficiencies’ and more recently recession and public expenditure cuts have led to a hollowing out of employment conditions within voluntary organisations.

“Future cuts threaten to exacerbate these problems, with workers in the sector facing redundancy, pay freezes or cuts, loss of pension and sickness benefits,” he added.

Dr Cunningham also claimed that further attempts to force savings on the sector could be counter-productive: “Public sector funders, in their efforts to make savings to the public purse, may be undermining some of the very qualities that attracted them to the sector as providers of public services – a skilled and committed workforce.”

The research was commissioned by the Voluntary Sector Social Services Workforce Unit, and by employers the sector.

Dave Moxham, deputy general-secretary of the STUC, said unions were committed to working with voluntary organisations to support staff working within them.

He said funding cuts had made it difficult for employers to reward their staff appropriately, and added: “It is a brave move on the part of the voluntary sector care providers to highlight the erosion of terms and conditions for their staff across the sector.”

Annie Gunner Logan is director of the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS).

She conceded it was “slightly awkward” that CCPS – which hosts the workforce unit – had commissioned research into the erosion of the pay and conditions of its members’ own staff.

She explained: “ It was deliberate, because this covers the whole sector, and different council areas. This is not about one or two people being bad employers. It comes as a result of relentless pressure from public sector commissioners.”

She added: “Service providers value the commitment, skill and experience of their workforce very highly indeed and these measures have been the result of a series of difficult and often painful decisions.

“Yet voluntary organisations are now being placed under even more pressure to cut costs.”

Ms Gunner Logan said “these cuts take no account of the significant cost reductions already made by our sector.

“There is now a very, very clear division between employees who are employed directly by the public sector and those who are not.”

Some local authorities are looking to impose cuts on care service providers of up to 20% this year, and she added that they should look elsewhere for their savings. “We have real sympathy for what the public sector is now facing. But we’ve been reasonable, we’ve taken these measures and cut our costs. They should look somewhere else first,” she said.