28 Sep 2021

Key workers ‘stuck in queues and driving miles’ for fuel, UK Homecare Association chief exec says

Jane Townson is chief executive of the UK Homecare Association, whose members provide assistance and support to people in their own homes.

She told Channel 4 News her members are still queuing and driving miles for fuel saying there should have been a “national coordinated effort” to ensure key workers were not left stuck with empty tanks. 

Jane Townson (JT): Our members continue to struggle, some have managed to fill up, but many others are still stuck in queues, waiting on forecourts and having to drive miles to find sources of fuel so they can carry on with essential visits.

Jon Snow (JS): Can you tell what sort of scale that’s on? Is it worse than it was the day before or is it a continuum?

JT: We’re now into the fifth day of this, and our point really is a plan should have been in place last Friday when problems became apparent. We shouldn’t have to spend four days trying to argue for help. It’s not the kind of thing that you can solve locally on your own. We need a national coordinated effort and there are plans in place, but local resilience forums weren’t able to invoke them because the government declared that there wasn’t an issue. So the kind of solutions that might have been put in place, such as making fuel pumps available for key workers between, say, 6 and 7am, vouchers for essential workers, so retail staff would know who was eligible. Simple things nobody has been able to do. And it’s just created a huge amount of stress on top of stresses that already existed because of workforce shortages and the pandemic.

JS: You obviously have quite an important perspective. Boris Johnson has suggested key workers such as carers, will not get priority fuel. What do you say to that?

JT: I would say that that is indicative of this government’s attitude to older and disabled people and to our care workforce. The much touted social care reforms do little for them. In fact, they’ll probably end up with lower take home pay as a result of National Insurance increases. That is the whole issue, that there isn’t sufficient concern for the health and well-being of our older and disabled people.

JS: Shortage of workers is widened from the HGV lorry drivers and now includes care workers. What is the scale of shortage in the care sector?

JT: Skills for Care estimate about 112,000 vacancies. It’s difficult to be precise with homecare because we’re seeing a rise in demand, increasing numbers of older and disabled people with multiple long term conditions. And we are not even coming close to meeting need. Councils are reporting large numbers of people turning to them for help and they’re not able to give it. NHS hospitals are packed to the rafters. They’re struggling to deal with the waiting lists and they’re struggling to discharge older people back home because there is insufficient capacity in the community.