By Michael Barker, Leicester Socialist Alternative
What the appalling death toll from the ongoing pandemic makes absolutely clear is that all public services must be renationalised so that they are run and funded under democratic workers control. This is as true for our education system as it is for our health services. Privately-run service providers do not act in the best interests our countries’ key workers, let alone for the service users.
The poor treatment of frontline workers, who have risked so much to keep society running, has been a sickening part of this entire pandemic, and the recent termination of employment for one high-profile worker crystallises the need for an immediate change in how our country is run.
The worker in question is Labour MP for Nottingham East, Nadia Whittome. With the onset of the pandemic she returned to her old job working as a carer for the elderly. But Whittome is a rare breed amongst the leaders of the Labour Party, because since her election in 2019 she has only been taking an average workers wage, donating the majority of her parliamentary wages to charity. In the same way she has been given all the money from her care job to charity too.
But on Wednesday night Nadia found that she no longer had a job with her second employer ExtraCare Charitable Trust – they decided that they had too many staff and no longer required her help. In reality, she was sacked because she had been outspoken in the national media about the shortage of PPE at ExtraCare, and her bosses weren’t impressed. Nadia’s contract was effectively terminated with no notice. She found herself in this impossible position because, like hundreds of thousands of other care workers, Nadia was employed on a zero-hour contract.
One has to wonder what sort of society we live in where employees working for a charity which cares for the elderly can exploit their workers (even MPs) so easily. Another question that comes to mind is why do we rely on charities to care for the elderly? ExtraCare may have said they were overstaffed but there is always work to be done in their care villages, this much is made clear by the fact that the charity boasts that, in 2019, unpaid volunteers undertook the equivalent of £4.3 million of work for the charity (that is, if you assume that they earned minimum wage).
One might also wonder where ExtraCare’s loyalties really lie: with the elderly or with their well-paid bosses? Between 2015 and 2019, ExtraCare’s income from their paying customers increased from just over £9 million to just over £16 million a year, while the number of full time equivalent carers was moving in the opposite direction and had decreased by about a third (from 919 to 612). Over this same time the proportion of pay going to top earners massively increased too. So, in 2015 ExtraCare employed just 9 employees earning more than £60,000 a year, while in 2019 the number earning this much rocketed up to 26 individuals. The combined spend on these big charity earners also increased too, from just over £1 million in 2015 to over £2 million in 2019.
This income inequality between the very low paid carers (many of whom are on zero-hour contracts) and their bosses (who have permanent secure contracts) more than illustrates the need for change. As a first step, ExtraCare must be forced by the trade union movement to reinstate Nadia to her care job. A campaign must be launched to ensure that care workers are given a real living wage of £15 an hour, with permanent contracted hours. Zero-hour contracts enable a culture of bullying and victimisation and must, therefore, be banned. But the trade union movement must go further in demanding that the entire care sector is nationalised under workers control, so as to ensure that services are joined up, fully transparent, and run for need not profit. Care workers deserve nothing less!
In the short-term pressure should be brought to bear upon ExtraCare’s unpaid board of trustees to encourage them to support the reinstate Nadia, and to improve the conditions of their workforce. Some of the members of this board who are ostensibly committed to promote the health of the working-class include: