Union chiefs will step up their campaign for carers to earn £15 an hour when they meet for their annual conference this week.
The GMB will seek to bolster the case for a higher wage when members gather in Harrogate, North Yorks.
Speaking exclusively to the Mirror, general secretary Gary Smith said carers were on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, working in “care homes the Tories turned into morgues”.
He added: “They deserve to be emerging into a land that’s fit for heroes, a different type of world and a different type of economy with a reward and respect for the work they do.”
He called for a wage hike for the sector, where many staff are paid the minimum hourly rate of just £9.50 for those aged 23 and over, dropping to £9.18 for staff aged 21 and 22, and only £6.83 for those aged 18 to 20.
Pointing to the pressures faced by staff during the pandemic, Mr Smith said: “The Government stood by and allowed care homes to be turned into morgues.
“Our people were sleeping in care homes as people were dying, they lived there in order to try and look after the people they loved and cared for.
“These people have been treated with absolute contempt for years – undervalued, under-rewarded – and there needs to be a new economic deal for working people in this country and there needs to be a new deal for carers.
“Our demand is very clear – £15 an hour for care workers, that’s the average hourly working wage.”
He believed the wallet boost would make “a huge difference to the whole sector, it would be life-changing for lots of low-paid, women workers, it would also mean we could recruit and retain carers in a way we couldn’t do”.
Mr Smith added: “Fifteen pounds an hour – that allows people to keep a roof over their head, keeps them out of foodbanks and it means they might be able to pay their energy bill this year.”
He warned of potential strikes unless care workers were given a pay rise, with women disproportionately hit because they make up a big proportion of frontline staff.
“My message is very clear to private and public sector emloyers – we are not going to tolerate ongoing discrimination over pay at work and what I would like to see is strikes and demonstrations the length and breadth of the UK over equal pay and raising wages in care,” he said.
“If employers won’t work with us, if councils won’t address equal pay, then we have to be prepared to take action – and this union won’t be found wanting.”
Boris Johnson promised a plan to tackle the social care crisis on the day he entered No10 in July 2019.
He said then: “I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”
A blueprint eventually emerged last September(2021), alongside a 1.25% rise in national insurance, branded the “Health and Social Care Levy”.
Billions are due to be pumped into the social care system – but only once chronic NHS backlogs have been tackled.
Many experts doubt whether the funds will ever go to social care.
“There has been so much talking and so many initiatives about social care, and none of it has shifted the dial,” said Mr Smith.
“All the initiatives and all the talk about care over the years by successive governments – nobody has addressed the crisis in social care.”
He went on: “Johnson has made so many promises – there’s a litany of broken promises with Boris Johnson.
“Boris Johnson is a liar.”
Mr Smith accused the PM of letting down carers and other key workers, who were hailed for their service during the Covid-19 crisis.
“In terms of all the rhetoric from Johnson, the Prime Minister, as we know, lies and he will say whatever gets him through the day,” he warned.
“All these promises and all this gratitude for frontline workers – that’s been ditched by the Government.
“It would suit parts of industry and it would suit the Tories to try and move away from that recognition, that moment and coming together of the country and that celebration of the role of frontline workers.
“What we can say is that in terms of the ordinary public – those that use care homes, those whose families are in care homes, those who depend on the health service – it’s not lost on them, the role that key workers played during the pandemic.”
He added: “I think we are at a crossroads in terms of the politics and economy in the UK, because I think a lot of people have had enough of years of this race to the bottom on pay and conditions, insecure, low-paid non-unionised employment.”
The Mirror is campaigning for Fair Care for All.
Union chief warns Starmer to be ‘bolder’
Keir Starmer needs to be “bolder” in laying out his plan for Britain, GMB boss Gary Smith warned.
The union general secretary said: “ Labour could be far bolder.
“There has been this global trauma around the pandemic and we should be emerging into this new world order where ordinary working people are respected and given their true worth.
“After 1945, in a country shattered by years of war, a Labour government rebuilt a different type of country and different type of economy that was stronger, better and fairer.
“There needs to be that degree of radicalism in Labour.
“In my view, we need to be seeing and feeling that there’s going to be a world in which ordinary working people are given their true worth.”
Stressing “I’m not there to backseat drive for Keir Starmer” or “mark Keir Starmer’s report card”, Mr Smith believed Labour’s leader is “very sincere”, insisting “there’s a radicalism at the heart in the party”.
But he added: “I think it needs to articulate its message far better and I think the party needs to talk about a different type of economy”.
Calls for big renewables expansion
The GMB called for a huge expansion in jobs in the renewable energy industry – highlighting figures that more people work in theme parks in Britain than in wind power.
On Tuesday, the union will address the “renewable jobs scandal”, demanding more employment in the UK for the sector.
General secretary Gary Smith said: “We have a growing energy crisis and it was entirely predictable.”
He feared power plants would end up “burning more imported coal and more imported gas to keep the lights on” because of a failure to plan for the future.
Boris Johnson has claimed a new nuclear power station will be built every year for eight years to address the crisis.
But critics were scathing about the pledge, warning it was undeliverable.
The Prime Minister has also promised an expansion in wind power – and the GMB wants British workers to benefit.
More than 15,000 people were estimated to work in UK amusement parks in 2020 – while there were 14,800 jobs in wind power during the same year, according to figures cited by the union.
“The green jobs of the future which were promised have been exported to countries like Indonesia and China and we are bringing back the renewables infrastructure from halfway round the world on diesel-burning barges – it’s an absolute scandal,” Mr Smith said.
“That’s how you get to a reality which means that we have more people working in theme parks than we have in manufacturing and frabircairton in the renewables industry.
“This is going to go down as a huge missed opportunity.”
This week’s conference will be Gary Smith’s first as the union boss and the first face-to-face congress since the coronavirus pandemic.
The general secretary, 54, told the Mirror: “It will be great to get people together for the first time.
“Our membership reflects working class Britain.’
“It will be a fantastic and energising event.
“There’s going to be a great energy and I’m really looking forward to it.”
More than 500 of the union’s 500,000 members are due to descend on the spa town.
With soaring prices, a stagnant economy and demands for wage hikes, the cost-of-living crisis is expected to dominate the five-day get-together.
“People are hurting, people will be concerned but there will also be a mood of hope and optimism in the power of the union and the power of having a collective voice and getting organised,” he said.
“We are about jobs and work, that’s our priority.
“We are not a third sector organisation, a charity or a political party.
“Our sole focus is about how we organise and campaign to make work better.”