Hundreds of thousands of careworkers are low paid and have no rights to occupational sick pay. If they get Coronavirus symptoms, or if they need to isolate because they have been in contact with someone with Coronavirus symptoms, then at best, they will receive just £95.85 a week. Many will be unable to afford to do that and will come to work with symptoms, potentially spreading the virus to colleagues and vulnerable service users.
One government study has found an 7-18% increased risk of Coronavirus infection in care homes where the employer does not pay sick pay. We suspect the real figure is much higher.
The government recognised the problem of sick pay at the beginning of March. The Department of Health and Social Care issued instructions that anyone with duties in NHS premises should be paid in full if they are isolating following public health advice. This included hundreds of thousands of outsourced workers and bank staff. The said that this measure was essential for infection control purposes in our hospitals and clinics. However, they did nothing about careworkers or other keyworkers.
In the words of Nadia Whittome MP, herself a former careworker, “those who could least afford to isolate are caring for those most likely to die if they get Coronavirus”
At the end of May, when carehomes had already experienced tens of thousands of deaths, the government decided to give £600 million of taxpayers money to care home providers: the Infection Control Fund. The fund was to be spent on some specific measures to curb the rate of infection in carehomes, including “ensuring that staff who are isolating in line with government guidance receive their normal wages while doing so. At the time of issuing the grant circular, this included staff with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 waiting for a test, or any staff member for a period following a positive test, for example to uplift the pay of those who need to isolate and who would normally only be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay”. The Infection Control Fund was given to councils to distribute.
A few councils, such as Islington, under pressure from Unison activists, moved to ensure that this policy was enacted. Unison in the North West of England has got similar commitments from local authorities through its Careworkers vs Covid-19 campaign. Elsewhere, implementation has been far more patchy. The initial reports suggested as few as 40% of care providers were offering their workers isolation pay. But if careworkers organise, link up with trade unionists and lobby their local authorities, then we can win full sick and isolation pay for all.
We have lots of resources for campaigning on this issue:
Our supporters are running a blog for and by Home Care Workers. https://homecareworker.wordpress.com/