We must fight for care workers to earn at least the National Minimum Wage

Submitted by sglenister on Wed, 02/10/2013 - 15:32

02 October 2013

By Matthew Egan, assistant national officer for Unison

It is conservatively estimated that around 150-200,000 homecare workers are routinely paid less than the National Minimum Wage mainly because they are not paid for the time they spend travelling between the homes of the people they care for.

Or to put it another way - the law is being broken on a truly monumental scale every week and the Government and many local authorities are failing to do anything about it.

Homecare workers provide one of the most valuable public services imaginable – providing intimate personal care for elderly and disabled people throughout our society so that they can continue to live independently in their own homes.

It is a skilled and demanding job. Homecare workers are increasingly taking on the roles that district nurses used to perform and they also provide vital emotional support to clients and their families. They often provide the only human contact that people receiving care have from day to day.

It is an absolute scandal that they are illegally paid and here's why you should do something about it.

You might not like to think about it but at some point in your life, you, or someone important to you, will require care (if you don't already).

Sub-minimum wage pay levels mean many good and experienced care workers have to leave the profession because they cannot afford to carry on. As one of our homecare workers said in our Time to Care report on the homecare sector:

"When I reflect on my pay it can often work that I earn £3.50 sometimes less per hour."

Continuity of care is vital for people who receive homecare services but illegal pay rates stop this from happening. Turnover is high with around 30% of homecare workers leaving the sector every year when what is desperately needed is a stable and experienced workforce.

"I have clients upset because there is not the continuity of service they need and do not know when the carer is going to arrive or who it's going to be."

Not paying for travel time can also mean that homecare workers are forced to rush or leave their visits early so they don't lose out as much. But this means that the people receiving care have already short visits cut even shorter. It puts homecare workers and the people they care for in a truly awful position.

"Sometimes my calls are back to back; this means I have to leave 5 minutes early to get to the next call on time – so if I am at a 15 minute call I have to slash a third off the clients time to reach the next call on time."

It is clear that homecare workers not only lose out financially but also that their ability to deliver humane and dignified care is badly affected, along with their professional pride and morale.

This issue has been going on for many years and has worsened as austerity has hit. The Government has presided over a hugely underfunded system and failed to take any meaningful action to end the practice of non-payment for travel time. Meanwhile many councils commission homecare services from external providers without any consideration or checks whatsoever over payment of the National Minimum Wage.

We need to ask ourselves whether the UK – as one of the richest and supposedly most civilised countries in the world – is prepared to tolerate this outrage and be complicit in its persistence.

Would you be happy for you and your loved ones to be cared for by a homecare worker forced to work under these conditions?

UNISON wants a fully funded homecare system and for councils to adopt our Ethical Care Charter, which requires councils to ensure that homecare workers are paid a living wage and for their travel time, and enjoy better working conditions that allow them to provide a higher standard of care. We are also launching a 'Pay up for Travel Time' campaign across local government to ensure that homecare workers are paid at least the Minimum Wage.

Because if we don't take action, the consequences are clear; continued widespread and unnecessary human suffering and home care workers on Victorian-era pay and conditions.

We can do better.

We must do better.

Take the chance to fight for a good service now before it is too late.

Take Action

Email your councillor and ask them to adopt UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.

Ask your MP to ensure that HMRC properly enforces payment of the National Minimum Wage for homecare workers.

Raising wages for everyone

The Institute of Employment Rights recently launched our latest publication Reconstruction after the crisis: a manifesto for collective bargaining - new policy proposals to increase wages and working conditions while boosting the economy. Read more here

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