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New call to pay home care workers the real living wage

13 Jul 2021 6 minutes Read
Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

Some home care workers in Wales are paid as little as £8 an hour – far less than the real living wage.

That’s the conclusion of new research  into pay rates in the domiciliary care sector conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

They  revealed that three quarters of the care advertised in Wales paid less than the real  living wage which is £9.50 an hour.

According to polling by the Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, most people in the UK think that home carers should get at least that amount.

The aim of the real living wage is to enable people to cover bills and costs of living with some money to set aside for emergencies, such as urgent dental work.

But the investigation showed that more than 60% of care worker jobs advertised in the past six months were paid less than that  – a which  amounts to more than 7,000 jobs across Britain.

The rate was even higher in Wales, where nearly three quarters of all care worker jobs were below the real living wage, despite the fact that the Welsh Government recently pledged that all care workers would be paid that rate.

Most domiciliary care  is paid for at least in part by local councils, and 43 local authorities have signed up to a charter pledging to pay their care workers the real living wage.

But the Bureau found jobs advertised for less than that in 37 of those areas, with some offering as little as £8 an hour, less than minimum wage for those over 21.

Kiri Williams, 38, who lives in Blackwood, Caerphilly, is a self-employed carer but previously worked for companies contracted by local authorities to deliver health and social care services.

‘Paid terribly’

She said: “People wonder why they can’t get carers… we’re paid terribly and treated just as bad.

“I got paid only £4.50 for each half-hour call, and care companies are uncompromising. I had to clock in and out electronically by scanning a code on my clients’ files with my phone. If I had to leave 10 minutes early, the company docked those 10 minutes. But if I spent longer with a person, I wouldn’t get paid for that time.

“It wasn’t easy to make enough to cover even my basic living costs. The most I ever got paid was £9 an hour; the least was £8.25. If I had earned that hourly rate throughout shifts, it would have been different, but I didn’t.

“I have known carers who have had to hand back calls because they couldn’t afford the petrol to get there. And carers ask each other to borrow money – people have asked me, and I have had to do the same.

“On the road, I either got paid travel time or mileage – 17p or 20p per mile – but I was put under pressure. I was once given 10 minutes for a 45-minute drive. Unsurprisingly, I was late. The care company took the rest of my shift calls off me because I wouldn’t have got there on time, which meant I didn’t get paid for them. That was not unusual.

“I quickly realised the hours I had to put in to pay my bills would be impossible to sustain.

“I worked from 6am through to 10 at night. My breaks were my driving time. If I had an hour lull, I would go to the nearest car park to not waste petrol and try to have a nap.

 “Even with those hours, my wages didn’t cover childcare costs. Sometimes the kids had to come with me in the car while I visited clients. I prayed I wouldn’t get spot-checked and hoped that if I did, the supervisor would say, ‘Don’t let me catch you again’, or turn a blind eye.

“Taking time off was also tricky. When I was on leave, the company was on the phone all day long, begging me to cover calls.

 “Caring can be fulfilling work, and it’s an important job, but it can also be emotional and stressful.

“During a typical half-hour call, I would get someone up out of bed, wash them, give them breakfast and their medication, tidy up and make their bed, open their curtains, make them a snack and put it in the fridge for later, and maybe empty their catheter and clean their commode. The time pressure meant I had to prioritise the most important things, such as medication and hygiene.

“I did all that in 30 minutes and got up to £4.50. Then I would go to another call, get verbally abused, told I’m rubbish, and again, it’s still £4.50.

 “I would go to one call where someone has been in desperate need of medical attention and then go straight to the next and have to act as though nothing had happened.

“In the end, it all caught up with me. I became unwell with stress, anxiety and exhaustion, and was signed off work.

 “A colleague quit and set up her own business as a self-employed home carer. Following her felt like a huge risk. But what did I have to lose?”

‘Deeply flawed’ 

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Social care is a deeply flawed system in urgent need of reform. The blame for all that is wrong must be laid solely at the government’s door.

“Ministers have failed to fund the system or make the necessary reform and so now care is in the grip of a damaging crisis.

“With the sector starved of resources, many councils are forced to commission care at bargain basement rates, resulting in poverty pay for highly skilled and dedicated staff.

“But despite the odds being stacked against them, many local authorities have tried to do the right thing by getting on board with our ethical care charter.

“If some councils don’t appear to be meeting their charter commitments, UNISON will investigate and try to iron out what’s been going wrong.

“But that’s not to let the government off the hook. Ministers must stop with the feet-dragging and share their plans for the changes that have long been promised.

“Top of the list should be the cash to lift thousands of care staff – who’ve more than proved their worth during the pandemic – on to the real living wage.

“A proper pay rise would at a stroke make care a more attractive career option and help fill the thousands of vacancies currently putting such pressure on services, staff and the vulnerable.”

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