Unison workforce report slams state of home care standards

A new Unison Scotland survey of workers who look after the elderly and vulnerable in their own homes, lays bare the challenges and problems they experience.

The majority of home care staff polled believe the service is not sufficient to meet the needs of those they care for, in terms of the time they can spend and the quality of care they can provide, the union said.

The survey also reported “high” sickness levels, both physical and mental, among staff, amid declining pay and conditions and low morale.

The study, entitled Scotland: It’s Time to Care, was based on responses from more than 300 home care workers across Scotland, in the community and voluntary sector, local government and the NHS.

It was undertaken “to find out how current austerity measures, local government and NHS cutbacks are impacting on the services provided to patients and clients and the effects on the workers involved”, Unison Scotland said.

The survey found almost half of home carers, 44%, said they were limited to specific times to spend with their clients. To compensate, some workers stayed on in their own time or went late to the next person, while others told the survey they would cut back on the tasks they were able to carry out.

Half of workers said they are not reimbursed for travelling between client visits.

One un-named carer told the survey: “Sometimes I spend up to two hours sat in the car waiting to go to the next client. I do not get paid for this.”

The public service union’s report claimed most home care staff believe the service they are providing is not sufficient for the needs of their clients, both from the time they can spend and the quality of care they can give. Specific figures on the number of people who felt this way were not given in the document.

The survey further stated that “staff report high sickness levels, both physical and mental, with high levels of stress and depression reported and low morale”.

It continued: “Pay and conditions, particularly in the community and voluntary sector, are declining rapidly in a race to the bottom.”

On the prospects for the future, exactly three quarters of those quizzed said they believe things will get worse over the next year.

The survey included a number of comments made anonymously by carers.

One said: “I have to just rush from one house to the next. It’s very, very stressful. I have told my manager but nothing is done.”

Another said: “It’s getting worse. I don’t know where it’s going to end, no-one cares about the patient or client anymore”, while a third said: “You become very stressed and despondent and feel that clients are being let down and some like me end up having a heart attack through the worry.”

Unison Scotland deputy convener Stephen Smellie said: “Our care services are hanging by a thread and this survey shows that as austerity has bitten, it is the elderly and vulnerable in our community who are paying the price. The elderly in our society deserve better – much better – and so do care workers.”

The findings were revealed on the day of a debate in Glasgow on Scotland’s care services, bringing together key figures in the public and voluntary sectors.

Event speaker Dave Watson, the union’s campaigns head, said: “This report gives staff at the front line of care delivery the chance to tell their story about care in Scotland and it doesn’t make comfortable reading. It should be a wake-up call for the Scottish Government and commissioning bodies to take action to end the race to the bottom in care provision.”

He called for better pay to help the recruitment and retention of staff, improved training, “proper employment standards” and “adequate” time to care in every home visit.

“Fairly paid, well-trained staff on proper contracts with time to care is the very least older people in our communities have a right to expect,” Mr Watson added.