Thousands of Agency Workers caring for the elderly in their homes are illegally paid less that the minimum wage. They are not being paid for travelling from one job to another or for their travelling time and expenses. A study from the Resolution Foundation “Think Tank” estimate that some carers receive less than £5 per hour for their work. This is 20% below the legal limit after time for travelling and expenses are included. Despite a major HMRC investigation Care firms are still failing to pay staff for travel time between clients according to research from Unison based on Freedom of Information responses from 150 Councils in England and Wales.
Often the elderly face a parade of different carers who visit their homes to perform basic tasks. Carrying out personal requirements such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals etc., and yet Carers are only given 15 minutes to complete many tasks. Care is often carried out by poorly paid and so inadequately trained individuals who are allocated a wholly insufficient amount of time (in the name of corporate profit) to carry out the most basic needs for people in their care. Much has been said about the rising aged population in the UK and its’s impact on society in general. Society has fundamentally changed over the years and the call upon organisations, both private and publicly funded, for the care and support of our elderly will only increase. There are two ways to end the underpayment of carers in our country: Firstly HMRC should prioritise this as a sector and fine employers who regularly underpay their employees. Secondly, Councils who provide most of these services, should make it a contractual inclusion of their contract that travel time is paid. The cash strapped NHS is relying on home carers to keep the elderly in their homes and out of hospital.
Money, of course, is always the issue and now surely is the time to set the foundations of a fully funded and regulated care system for our elderly and vulnerable. Of course this will come at some considerable cost and hence the Government could take a bold step forward by reforming the current system of tax relief on pension contributions with the introduction of a standard rate of 20% for all. This would bring an estimated £12.5 billion into the Treasury. This funding stream could, and should, be used to fund a properly funded social care system for generations to come.
Reply from:- Department of Health – Ministerial Correspondence and Public Enquiries
With regard to social care worker’s pay, as you are aware, the majority of care workers are employed in the independent sector. Therefore, terms and conditions of employment are matters for individual employers, who must meet the requirements of existing employment legislation. Although the Department of Health does not employ social care workers, it was decided that working with local authorities was the way forward to ensure that the providers from which they commission services have a quality workforce, with fair terms and conditions that also meet legal requirements on staff pay. It was also decided to work with employers to develop the social care workforce and invest funding on training to raise overall standards. More generally the Working Time Regulations 1998 state that working time cannot exceed 48 hours per week – normally averaged over 17 weeks. Employers are responsible for ensuring their staff comply with the Working Time Regulations. However, it is also the responsibility of individuals to ensure they record their working time in accordance with their contract and report non-compliance when it happens. Workers are advised to contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) helpline for free, confidential and impartial advice about any kind of dispute or employment rights query. ACAS can be contacted on 0300 123 1100 or through their website as www.acas.org.uk by clicking on ‘Contact Us’ at the top of the page.
The Department does not support any employee being pressured to work more hours than the legislation dictates and, where a formal complaint is made, the employer may be held to account either by an employment tribunal or the Health and Safety Executive. The Regulations allow employees the choice to opt-out and work more than 48 hours per week, but they must still meet the requirements in relation to rest that are set out in the Regulations. These include:-
– workers having the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day if they work more than six hours a day:-
– workers having the right to 11 consecutive hours rest between working days. For example if someone finishes a shift at 8pm they should not start work again before 7am the next day.
– workers having the right to an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week, or 48 hours each fortnight; and
– a worker’s employment contract may state they are entitled to more or different rights to breaks from work, as long as the breaks are not less than those above.
There are some exemptions to the right to rest breaks – eg when continuous service is needed such as in responses to major emergencies. In these situations compensatory rest must usually be provided instead. Further guidance is available online at www.gov.uk by searching for ‘rest breaks at work’. Now that Parliament has been dissolved before the General Election, the Department cannot comment further on this matter. What happens on the issue of the NHS and social care in the future will be a matter for the incoming government.