The Cost of Living Campaign for those working in the Drug and Alcohol third sector
There is understandably much noise about the public sector and the demand from their Unions that the Government needs to address their salaries, given the cost of living crisis. The same publicity has not been as forthcoming to our sector and therefore we are in danger of being forgotten. We were, however, delighted that ITV Wales, Wales Online and Global Radio have covered the risk of this crisis to our service users and staff.
Cost of living: Charity fears more drug and alcohol deaths over money worries | ITV News Wales
‘I was given heroin at 13 and didn’t start to get clean until I lost custody of my children 26 years later’ – Wales Online
Kaleidoscope has talked to each of the Area Planning Boards about the crisis. There have been some areas where there has been positive engagement but sadly too many commissioners are not properly engaging in any meaningful discussions. The problem is not so much about money put into the sector, as it is about realistic expectations about what can be delivered. For example, Welsh Government note how much more money has been committed to the sector without saying the money is tied into new projects. Other money is effectively ringfenced, to pay the increased salaries of our public sector colleagues.
There are serious questions for those who fund us on why they are not passing the money they receive into our sector. This funding comes primarily through the Welsh Government, the Police and Probation. For example, if the NHS is being given more money by the UK Government to increase salaries to nurses why does that not include our staff? In Wales the work of the NHS in some areas is given to third sector organisations, such as Kaleidoscope, whilst in other areas, such as Swansea, where there is the highest level of drug deaths, it is purely NHS run. Payment of staff for meeting the needs of public health should surely be the same? It is just a commissioning arrangement that has meant a nurse in Gwent will be paid less than a nurse, for example, in Swansea. In the same way workers in health bodies will be protected by the Welsh Government pay agreements but those in the third sector are not. Yet the solution is simple that in a contract that is tendered to deliver public service a rate of pay, with terms of conditions, could be part of any tender specification.
The result for organisations such as Kaleidoscope has meant that we have only been able to provide 1% increases to staff, unless we are fortunate to be working with more enlightened commissioners, who recognise recruitment and retention of good quality staff is critical to service delivery. Too many areas are using any additional money for extra administration staff in the bodies that pay and monitor us, with an expectation of delivering new services. Instead, there should be a focus on ensuring the services they currently support are properly invested in.
We are grateful for Senedd Members who are raising these issues, such as Peter Fox MS. In the Senedd he asked the First Minister what support the Welsh Government is giving third sector agencies in meeting their challenges. The typical response is that Welsh Government is putting more money in to the sector, although it is never mentioned that this is nowhere near the level required.
We are pleased Peter Fox MS went on to say how he has noted that the third sector organisations like Kaleidoscope “are simply unable to provide additional financial support” to their “employees to help them through this difficult period”. Peter stated that extra funding has been “used to expand services rather than to help improve staff and pay conditions.” He went onto highlight the “well-being of staff and their families, as well as staff retention rates, at a time when demand for third sector services are every increasing”. The Welsh Government response to this was that it would be taken forward but that “the pressures on the sector are real” and that “there will be even further dilemmas for the sector to bear. The Welsh Government cannot be the answer to every dilemma that every part of Welsh society faces”.
Plenary 10/01/2023 – Welsh Parliament (assembly.wales)
I understand Welsh Government budgets are tight, but what I do not understand is a failure to understand that we need to prioritise the workforce who deliver services. The issue, therefore, is not how much money is being put out there, it is about how that money is being used to support the people needed to deliver critical services. It is not the third sector agencies asking to do more, it is the Governmental bodies asking our sector to do more as a condition for securing further funding. This aspect of the debate is critical. We need more money that can ensure we can retain the staff we have and recruit staff at a rate that values their skills set. The third sector should have an agreement with the Government and other public bodies that there is a system is place that means any increase to equivalent roles in public bodies is provided to third sector delivery agencies. A failure to protect agencies such as Kaleidoscopes and others in our sector will inevitably lead to impoverishing the people who most needs our services.
So, my simple plea is to use the money to help staff who are highly skilled but are only on £19,000. My view is that Welsh Government could set out a recommended pay schedule for workers in my sector and send that to the area planning boards that commission services. I also feel that what we are experiencing in my sector well may be the experience of other third sector organisations who are providing vital services.