Matt Hancock has been told care workers need more than “a pat on the head” after offering employees across the sector a “new brand” on par with the NHS as a way to mitigate the strain of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
As part of a new range of policies aimed at supporting care workers during the coronavirus crisis – including Covid-19 testing for both service users and staff, and access to protective equipment – Mr Hancock also unveiled a “new brand” for social care across the UK.
Referring to a lapel pin with the word “CARE” on it, which he said the government intended to make available to workers across the country, he said: “This badge will be a badge of honour in a very real sense, allowing social care staff proudly and publicly to identify themselves, just like NHS staff do with that famous blue and white logo.
“I know that many businesses will want to offer the same recognition and benefits as they do wonderfully to the NHS.”
However officials from charities, unions and the world of politics have all hit out at the scheme, saying the minister would do better to ensure higher wages and more protective equipment for staff.
Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB union, said care workers “need more than a badge and a pat on their head to define their precious role in society”.
“They need the protective equipment and testing on the frontline now to protect their lives. Ministers should be moving mountains to support our care sector to get the kit workers need available where and when they need it,” she added.
Meanwhile Edel Harris, CEO of the learning disability charity Mencap, said that beyond “well-meaning gestures”, the sector “would much prefer to see funds available so that the hard working frontline social care workforce can be given a pay rise on a par with the NHS to really value the incredible work they do”.
Opposition politicians were also quick to criticise the measure. Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, tweeted in response: “Of all the things that long-suffering social care staff in England most need, I would put a badge close to the bottom of the list”, while MP Barbara Keeley wrote: “A badge for social care staff? They need PPE, testing, decent pay and conditions and proper recognition of the vital role they do. But a badge?”
Questions have also been raised over how new the policy is. The pin, worn by the health secretary during his press conference, was first rolled out by independent care home body Care England in June last year to similarly galvanise the sector.
Plans for the care sector set out by Mr Hancock also include strengthening recruitment efforts to get tens of thousands of more staff into the profession, with the government offering to pay for initial induction training.
“Everyone knows the job isnt easy, whether supporting people of working age, who are some of the most vulnerable in society, or supporting people and their families with dignity at the end of their lives, but I know what a fulfilling profession it is and I know that many will answer our call,” he added.