Labour’s crusade for care workers is vital, but it must come clean on ‘clock-watch care’

Between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers are unlawfully paid less than the minimum wage.

Between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers are unlawfully paid less than the minimum wage

The Kingsmill Review into exploitation of the care workforce is important and deserves to be widely read. Labour is taking up an issue that should be a cause of national shame: the appalling pay and working conditions of people doing some of the most important work in the country – caring for adults with disabilities and our elderly parents and relatives.

In stark terms, the report sets out how between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers are unlawfully paid less than the minimum wage. It also highlights widespread examples of non-compliance with minimum wage regulations among care providers.

It is shocking that our care system is apparently dependent on the unpaid labour of its largely female workforce. The chronic under-funding of the system provides no excuse for this, however, particularly when many of the largest care providers in the country are private equity funded, profit-making organisations.

Findings in the report, such as the fact that over 40 per cent of care workers do not receive specialist training to help deal with specific conditions such as dementia, explain the frustration and disappointment of hundreds of thousands of families across the country who find that when they pay for care, they cannot rely on care workers to understand and respond properly to their relatives’ needs.

The review calls for the Skills for Care body to do more to tackle poor standards and raise levels of training which she argues could be done within existing budgets if it took a more strategic approach.

The review is right to point out that improvements are not all about funding. In a sector which is so obviously under-funded, it becomes easy to simply see more funding as the answer to every problem. Better regulation of care providers to improve working conditions for staff through a new care charter, enforcement of the minimum wage – these are not costly and should already be a top priority to deal with growing public concern about standards in care.

However, the recommendation in the report Labour has gone furthest to champion is the call to end 15 minute slots for care.

Some councils may have stopped 15 minute slots with no detrimental impact on their budget as a result. But ever-shorter times for care appointments are the direct result of the fact that social care spending is falling while demand for care is rising. Local authorities can only square this circle by paying providers less for care, which results in less face-to-face time for care recipients.

Arguably, an impossibly short 30-minute care appointment to bathe and wash someone, as well as getting them breakfast, is just as bad as a 15 minute slot for one simple task, such as making sure a person takes their medication. Is an end to 15 minute slots a great step forward in that context?

Eventually, Labour will have to explain how it plans to end the care rationing that is becoming one of the biggest social injustices in this country. In the meantime, the fact that Labour is taking up this cause is vitally important for families up and down the country that only want the best for their relative, but too often find the best is far from what they get.

Clare McNeil is a senior research fellow at IPPR and author of The Generation Strain: Collective Solutions to Care in an Ageing Society

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