Spiralling fuel costs and low wages have led to a number of private sector social care workers to leave the profession
Sinn Féin Councillor, Michaela Boyle, has insisted the Minister of Health must provide a living wage to social care and domiciliary workers as well has provide them with a fuel allowance.
Cllr Boyle tabled a motion to Derry City & Strabane District Council – which was unanimously passed – saying that private health care companies must give their workers better wages and improved conditions.
Her motion read: “This Council calls upon the Minister for Health to adopt the policy initiated by Finance Minister Conor Murphy in his Department to make paying workers the living wage a requirement for any private company receiving a Department of Health contract including for domiciliary workers.
“This Council further calls upon the Minister for Health to make the payment of a fuel cost allowance, in line with the public sector rates, a further pre-requisite of any tender.”
In addition to her motion, Cllr Boyle added that domiciliary workers in rural areas were suffering due to rising fuel costs and that many were considering leaving the profession altogether.
She added: “We have been, as a party, lobbying for the Minister to review the fuel allowance for care workers employed directly by the Western Trust.
“The current fuel allowance is simply not adequate to cover fuel and the running costs of their cars – especially those carers in rural areas where the distances they have to cover between clients is disproportionately longer.
“Domiciliary workers employed by the private sector are at a greater disadvantage. They have no statutory protection in terms of a minimum wage or a minimum fuel cost allowance.
“After working all week, many are left with little or nothing to live on once they pay their fuel costs and those workers that I have spoken to are on the verge of giving up.
“We've also seen the impact this is having on hospitals as well. We have patients being discharged from hospitals to their homes unable to go home and with no care package in place.”
Ald Maurice Devenny (DUP) backed Cllr Doyle saying that salaries must be enhanced as not to do so would lead to a shortage of carers which in turn would hurt the social care sector.
He said: “I've talked to many carers on their doorsteps and I can assure you that many of them have said to me that they're leaving their profession because they can't afford to live from it. They are looking at other jobs where there are better pay levels.
“If we do not look to enhance the salaries of those providing domiciliary care and also the fuel allowance given the high price of fuel, then that situation of carers going to other professions is going to be exacerbated.”
Ald Darren Guy (UUP) responded by saying that while he acknowledged the lack of investment in the sector, his party colleague, Health Minister Robin Swann, was doing all he could ensure investment found its way to social care workers.
He said: “It's obvious that with an ageing population, Northern Ireland is facing significant pressures with regard to domiciliary care.
“For too long this service has been run on a shoestring and has been a service that was wrongly identified for savings in the past.
“It was a service that was on its knees when the Ulster Unionist party to the Health portfolio in early 2020 and almost immediately its frailties became clear with the onset of the pandemic.
“Minister (Robin) Swann has recognised this and last year announced an addition £23million in funding for domiciliary care and care home staff. Despite the absence of an agreed Executive budget, he has already instructed officials that the funding would be maintained for this year.”
However, Cllr Maeve O'Neill (PBP), insisted that one solution to this would be to removed the private companies out of the equation completely and return the social and domiciliary care sector back into public hands.
She said: “The creeping privatisation of the Health Service is at the heart of all this. Private companies are cutting corners to make a profit – that's their reason for being which is to make money from these services.
“What we need to do is to take social care, domiciliary care and care homes back under the control of the Health and Social Care Service where workers have excellent terms and conditions, have a set pay-band which is not undercut and where workers are represented by trade unions.”
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