Southern Cross was bought up by a private equity firm called Blackstone; they then sold off all of Southern Cross’s property — that is, the actual care homes themselves.
The homes were sold off to all sorts of private companies, including the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which is owned by the Qatari royal family. These private companies then rented the property back to Southern Cross at extortionate rates. QIA has off-shore accounts, so it wasn’t even paying tax on all that rent it was making.
That situation was necessarily unsustainable. But when the cuts hit, funding for care was reduced so rents went up even further, and the whole thing has now exploded.
Southern Cross can’t afford to pay the rent on its own care homes, which its owners, Blackstone, sold off to make a quick buck. It was profit before people in the crudest sense imaginable.
From a workers’ point of view, Southern Cross isn’t a great employer. Workers are very low-paid and shifts can last up to 12 hours. Conditions in the homes themselves vary but some are very run down and quite depressing places to work. Homes are often very short staffed, so the quality of care goes down.
Care work is very hard; people don’t realise how manual it is, but when you’re having to physically lift people in and out of bed or help them go to the toilet, it’s a very manual job. Although workers are being demonised in the press over the current scandal, they are doing the job because they care.
Bosses are telling staff that everything’s going to be okay. Many Southern Cross workers are migrant workers who have English as a second language, and bosses are exploiting that to try and pull the wool over their eyes. But workers read the papers and we know what’s going on.
People are fed up. There’s a feeling of utter powerlessness. Southern Cross is undertaking a last ditch effort to try and save itself by making £20 million cuts. They haven’t spoken about redundancies yet but it’s difficult to see how they’ll be avoided.
Over 200 homes could also face closure. The GMB is trying to fight for our members around that restructuring, but the situation is very difficult.