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Wiltshire's flagship care home policy in tatters

July 22, 2013 10:19 AM

Care services provider Aster Living has pulled out of three contracts with Wiltshire Council. The contracts were awarded as part of the 'Help to Live at Home' scheme, which divided the county into eight contract areas. Aster got two areas in the south of the county and one in the east. The others are shared amongst Enara, Leonard Cheshire and Somerset Care.

Whilst the contracts are being re-tendered as quickly as possible the WC cabinet is being asked to consider the reasons for the failure. Council officers admit that frontline care staff are underpaid and undervalued, and the quality of care delivered to customers needs to be improved.

Cabinet agenda

Under the terms of the contracts providers are supposed to look after people in sheltered housing, to give personal care to those in their own homes who require it, and to give rehabilitative care to people discharged from hospital.

Although council officers are being coy about the detailed reasons for the collapse of the deal with Aster, they've admitted that the provider has simply been unable to get staff to work at the appallingly low wages on offer. They also blame the "rural nature of the South Wiltshire area," which one might have thought Aster would have realised in advance of taking on the job.

Wages for frontline staff in Wiltshire are about £7.50 per hour. However care workers on 'zero hour contracts' only get paid when with a customer, so the effective hourly rate can drop well below the minimum wage.

It had been hoped that the Care to Live at Home system would provide a more stable and efficient workforce, but this has not happened.

It was also hoped that the way the contracts were awarded would improve efficiency by reducing the number of providers - previously lots of different organisations were being used by the council. However this approach has also failed, and the new contract areas are being sub-divided to allow smaller concerns to bid.

The potential collapse of the Wiltshire system reflects a national crisis in care provision for older people, identified a year ago by Unison in their report, "Time to Care."

The new contracts will begin at the end of September. Bids are currently being evaluated, and the new contracts will be awarded in August.