Plans by the government to increase National Insurance contributions by 1% to address the funding crisis in social care have drawn widespread criticism, from its own backbenches as well as the opposition parties.
Critics see the move as regressive and placing an unfair burden on low paid and young workers, while Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation argues that the money is actually going to be needed to address the funding crisis in the NHS.
Now the Co-op Party has added its voice to the chorus of protest. Writing on the Party website, policy officer Anna Birley said: “If this government follows through on simply hiking National Insurance to pay for social care, younger workers and the lowest earners will yet again be hardest hit while many of the wealthiest won’t pay a penny.
“Our shopworkers, nurses, and bus drivers have been on the frontline of this pandemic – but the Conservatives are asking them to foot the bill for a social care crisis of the government’s own making. Many of these workers will face the double whammy of an increase in NI at the same time as their Universal Credit is cut by £20 a week.”
Cllr Birley also hit out at the government’s handling of the care sector, arguing that “the past 18 months have laid bare the extent to which Conservative cuts have decimated social care” and calling for more cash to tackle “low pay, short visits and long waiting lists”.
She added: “It is right that we are having those difficult conversations about how to properly fund the sector. People who are older, or living with disability or physical or mental illness, deserve a social care service that is fit for purpose. And care workers deserve a wage they can live on, better workplace rights, and recognition for the important jobs they do every day.”
But she warned that it was not clear how the NI hike would affect devolved administrations, with the risk that workers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would end up paying for “an England-only policy”.
She also called for reform of the sector itself. “As co-operators, we know that increasing funds into a market dominated by private interests won’t fix the whole problem. The shift to private market provision of services has reduced the quality of care, undermined labour market conditions, and reduced cost efficiency within the sector.
“When private companies make a profit, it’s those who rely on social care and the staff that deliver it who pay the price – whether through low wages, loss of workplace rights, a lack of accountability, ever shorter visits, de-personalised services, or a race to the bottom on quality.”
Voices in the co-op movement have long been calling for the mutualisation of privatised health services, and there have been some high profile examples of care co-ops, such as the Equal Care platform co-op, and research into the model by the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network.
“Co-operative models of care put care workers and service users in the driving seat,” wrote Cllr Birley, “ensuring they have a stake and a say in the services they rely on. They use the principles of co-operation to build on the first-hand knowledge of those who rely on, receive and provide care.
“In Wales, the Labour & Co-operative government know that co-operation works which is why they have a special duty on Welsh local authorities to promote co-operative models.”
She added: “We have been consulting our members on social care policy over the past nine months, asking what a fairer sector looks like, how care users and workers can be empowered, and how we tackle issues of low pay. We’ve learnt from great examples up and down the country of co-operative providers doing things differently.
“From Be Caring – a social provider in Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester owned by its employees – to Cartrefi Cymru – a co-operative provider supporting people with learning disabilities in Wales – co-operatives around the UK are demonstrating the difference that our values and principles can make in practice.”