Care home owners in Torfaen have accused the local council of double-standards after they refused to fund pay rises for frontline Covid heroes.
As a result the new rates announced by Torfaen Council are based on only 65 per cent of care workers receiving pay increases with the remaining 35 per cent left high and dry.
They say that Torfaen Council have offered care homes a 7.5 per cent increase in funding at a time when food and heating inflation is running at over 20 per cent.
At the same time they are paying more to their own in-house care workers than they have allowed for those in the independent sector, and housing associations in Torfaen are charging £80 more per resident than private providers.
When four care providers in Torfaen insisted that fees needed to rise by more the Council’s Executive Member for Adults and Housing, Councillor David Daniels launched an attack on them in the council newsletter, saying they believed their offer was fair and accusing the providers of holding families and the council over a barrel.
He claimed they were putting profits before people and said that in future the Council could look elsewhere for its social care needs but failed to give the care home owners the chance to reply to these accusations.
In response one of the four care providers, Mark Virgo, of Virgo Care Homes which has three homes in Torfaen, said the Council hadn’t made any provision for a pay rise for 35 per cent of independent care sector staff including team leaders and senior carers.
He added: “They are at the forefront of delivering care and at a time when nurses and railway workers are striking because of a poor pay rise, to give nothing to staff who put their lives on the line by working through the pandemic is an insult.
“Until recently Torfaen were up there with the best supporters of elderly care in Wales, but something has changed in the last year.
“We are not paid the best rate – the neighbouring borough, Newport, who were on a par with Torfaen, have calculated their fee increase to be about 14 to 16 per cent this year.
“That’s mainly due to fact that wages have increased by 10.1% because of the pledge to pay the real living wage but Torfaen have decided on 7.5%, a real terms cut.
“They claim that ‘the pursuit of profits over care must come to an end’ yet when we are asked to accept this real term cut, we find that a not for profit, government-supported housing association is charging fees of £80 and more above the Torfaen fee level for the same care in their homes.
“At the same time a care assistant working for Torfaen is being advertised at £11.39-£12.24 an hour yet we are to accept a fee calculation based on £10.90 an hour.
“Until this year we have never charged more than the agreed Torfaen rate and that’s over the last 22 years and we’ve always worked with the council to ensure this is the case, but something has changed in Torfaen this year.
“I can also reassure all the family members reading this post that we’re more than happy to work to a fair resolution with Torfaen Council and we’ll be as flexible as we can.
A second of the care home owners, Mark Peniuk, Director of the Summerhill Group, two of whose four homes are in Torfaen, also took aim at Cllr Daniels and said: “I find it deeply concerning that a council member would use this platform to post an article full of factually incorrect statements which will undoubtedly cause unnecessary distress to residents and their families.
“We haven’t said that residents must pay the underfunding element – we have simply highlighted Torfaen Council’s responsibilities, under the Social Services Well Being (Wales Act) 2014, to negotiate a fair fee and meet the full cost of such to ensure residents needs are met.
“The only reason we have reached this point is that, unlike previous years, Torfaen have not participated in meaningful discussions to set the fee, they simply imposed it upon us.
“To date, it is Torfaen that have been unwilling to negotiate. This is extremely disappointing as we have always worked well with the Council but something has clearly changed.
“Our main concern centres around the fact that Torfaen received additional funding from the Welsh Government so they could set 2023/24 fee levels at an appropriate rate to allow Care Homes to pay staff the Real Living Wage and maintain differentials to staff pay rates.
“Torfaen’s proposed fee does not allow for this. In fact, Torfaen have stated that they have only applied the allowance to 65 per cent of our workforce and have made no provision for a pay increase for the remaining 35 per cent of staff.
“How can this possibly be fair to such dedicated people? There is already a staff shortage crisis in the care sector and Torfaen refusing to make an allowance to give them an adequate pay increase will inevitably lead to more staff leaving the sector.
“As care providers we don’t accept that these dedicated staff do not deserve a pay increase in line with all workers.
“Perhaps Cllr Daniels can explain how he has previously advocated that care staff are underpaid but finds it perfectly reasonable that Torfaen exclude these care workers from any pay increase.
“This is merely one cost that Torfaen have ignored. Other cost pressures, include the unprecedented increases in energy and food prices which have not been reflected in Torfaen’s fee.
“We providers have been and remain open to resolving this issue with Torfaen, we just need them to reciprocate this sentiment.
With reference to Councillor Daniels’s claim we are putting profit over people, Torfaen have never included a profit element in their fee calculation, they have merely allowed a sustainability allowance.
“That is why providers are unable to invest in new capacity and no new care homes are being built in Torfaen.
“This lack of investment by Councils in the private care sector is where the real damage to people will arise from and not providers making a profit.”
Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “The language used by Cllr Daniels is inappropriate because this has nothing to do with profit and everything to do with people.
“We have previously had an excellent working relationship with Torfaen Council but not on this occasion and sadly we are well aware of the institutional prejudice against the private sector that is ingrained in some members of the Council.
“What we should be doing in Torfaen and across Wales is co-producing services , working in partnership and looking at quality access to services that people need rather than who provides them.
“It’s very clear that what hey really need to be doing is rewarding a workforce that has been heroic through the Covid crisis.
“We all know how damaging prejudice is in its many forms but prejudice against the independent care sector is an own goal because the alternative is a much more expensive service.”