We cannot fix the social care sector without changing the way we treat its workers Angela Rayner

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The scourge of wage poverty and insecure work not only spoils the lives of millions of working people, it also slows our economy. Nowhere is this more clearly the case than in our social area.

I know firsthand the dire impact our fragmented social welfare sector is having on those who work on the front lines, the millions of people in need, and society in general. Before I was elected to parliament, I was a home nurse with a zero-hour contract and the minimum wage, and then I was a shop steward negotiating better wages and conditions on behalf of my colleagues.

Ministers talk about the “welfare crisis” in the House of Commons mailing box or Westminster television studios, but it is worth pondering what this means in the real world. Three quarters of the frontline carers in England – more than 600,000 people – are on less than the subsistence level, and 375,000 are busy with zero-hour contracts.

A “crisis” means that the caregivers who risked their lives during this pandemic cannot feed their families or pay their bills; it means that there is not enough manpower to look after the people in need of care. This pressure creates a vicious circle of job vacancies and high turnover rates, which in turn means that employees are pushed to their limits because they are trapped in a system that does not allow them to get the best care to the people who need them to offer.

Across industries, the atomized system of providers and agencies that play out contracts for contracts leads to a race to the bottom, in which poor employers push wages and working conditions as well as care standards down across the board. Our economy and society pay the price when working people are employed on exploitative and insecure contracts and poverty wages are paid.

The truth is we cannot talk about fixing welfare without removing the shame of poverty wages and insecure work. Because of this, Labor will give our nurse heroes a raise and empower them to get a better deal for themselves when we are in government.

Today, when I open the Labor Party conference, I will put forward plans for Labor’s fair pay agreements. The adult social care sector will be the first to benefit when employee and employer representatives are brought together to collectively agree minimum wages and conditions before the plan is expanded to other sectors. Nurses and doctors in our NHS are already negotiating their wages and terms collectively, so why shouldn’t social workers be able to do the same too?

This “floor” is good for workers and employers alike – it prevents employers who recognize the value of fair pay for their employees and treat them with respect from being undermined by exploitative corporations.

Workers don’t want a handout from a minister in Whitehall. The workers want the power to stand up for themselves and demand a fair share of the wealth they have created. Working people take pride in what they do, but want dignity, respect, and a better offer for their class. Tory ministers don’t understand because they don’t understand the working people – they just expect them to know their place and take what is given to them.

The best way to improve workers’ lives is to empower working people to act collectively to advance their interests. In government, Labor will give workers the collective voice and power to come together to raise and improve their wages and working conditions.

This is one of many measures set out in the Labor Green Paper on Labor Rights – a set of measures that will actually make our economy work for the working people, not just for landlords and tax evaders. The starting point is that a job offers fair pay that you can raise a family with, security, dignity and equality in the workplace. We will sign it within the first 100 days of taking office.

Working people want something better for themselves, better for their families, and better for their communities. The Labor Party was founded by workers who came together to demand a new deal and their fair share – that is still our driving mission. At our meeting in Brighton today, we will show the country that improving the lives of working people is always a top priority.

  • Angela Rayner is MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Deputy Labor Leader, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Labor


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