Coronavirus: Union ‘victory’ as Islington Council agrees to ensure isolating care home workers get full pay

Islington Town Hall. Picture:Ken Mears

Islington Town Hall. Picture:Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Islington Council has agreed to pay all staff working in care homes full pay if they need to isolate because of a coronavirus infection, in what Unison has dubbed a “significant” victory.

Rather than receiving statutory sick pay of £96 a week, workers at Islington’s 16 care homes who need to self-isolate will be paid their normal wage.

The trade union presented a submission to the council’s health and social care scrutiny committee about the government’s £600m infection control fund, set up in May to reduce transmission of coronavirus in care homes.

It is distributed to local authorities who then share it out among care homes to cover the costs of implementing measures to reduce transmission of the virus. The fund has six conditions, one of which is ensuring that staff who are isolating in line with the government’s coronavirus guidance receive their normal wages while doing so.

It is also supposed to be used to make sure permanent and agency staff are restricted to working in just one care home wherever possible.

But Unison officer Andrew Berry was concerned that council leader Richard Watts and his deputy, Janet Burgess, had “painted a picture of the local authority having no agency in the matter and no control over how the money is spent”.

He flagged up that on June 1 Cllr Watts tweeted a response to him stating that no guarantees could be given the fund would be used to pay wages for those in isolation, saying: “Because, as we wrote to you, it’s a condition of the grant that it has to be given straight over to the care providers.”

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In an email in May Cllr Burgess had said: “It is estimated that the fund will provide a 50 bedded care home with about £50,000 additional resources, but if the occupancy levels are down to around 30 residents, the home will be making a loss of around £10,000 per week. Islington Council has also seen income reduce sharply over the past few months as costs linked to the pandemic rise and we have no idea for how long the current situation will go on.”

Unison sought assurances the funding should only pay for activity to help reduce the risk of infection, as the grant intended, and not to “improve provider financial resilience”.

Cllr Burgess has now agreed the council will make sure care homes pay full wages in the event that someone needs to isolate, and has warned care homes that if they do not spend the money correctly they will not receive a second instalment.

Mr Berry said: “Workers who need to isolate need to be able to pay their bills and put food on the table. They cannot do this on statutory sick pay which is only £96 a week.

“We would like to thank the council’s scrutiny committee for listening to our arguments. As we have always said, this is not just a trade union issue but is also a public health issue and will save lives.”

About a third of the 43,000 deaths directly linked to the coronavirus have been in care homes, meaning about one in 20 residents in the UK have died after contracting the virus.

It is now widely accepted the level of infection there arose from many providers being persuaded to take people from hospital who had not been tested, and the situation was further compounded by a failure to test for the virus in a timely manner and by many residents and staff who were infected, presenting as being asymptomatic.

Cllr Burgess said: “For years, carers have been the unsung heroes of our nation – it has taken the coronavirus crisis to finally shine a light on the tremendous work they do alongside the rightly-praised NHS.

“We are so grateful to the efforts of carers during the pandemic. They have literally put their lives on the line to look after some of our most vulnerable residents, in extremely challenging and stressful circumstances.”