When care workers don't have basic working rights those they care for suffer too
I worked as a homecare worker for about 18 months.
I stopped because I couldn’t afford to do it anymore.
Homecare earned me only four or five pounds an hour – well below minimum wage – because my company wouldn’t pay me for the time it took to travel between service users.
On a typical day I’d visit people to care for them from 6:30am until lunchtime. On an average day I’d spend four and a half hours in people’s home and over two hours travelling between them – but I’d only be paid for the time spent in people’s homes.
And because the calls were often organised back to back, it meant many homecare workers were forced to cut time off from calls in order to arrive on time.
I would end up rushing at one service user’s home in order to leave 10 minutes early so that I would be on time to the next call. This meant I didn’t have enough time for a proper chat, which felt awful when so many of the people that I cared for had no other visitors at all most days.
15 minute calls were particularly difficult.
Sometimes, I would be required to make somebody lunch and check that their medication had been taken properly; 15 minutes is just about enough time to do that and leave the kitchen tidy – unless you want to have a chat with the service user or check how they are feeling that is.
There simply isn’t the time.
15 minute calls treat people receiving care like a customer at a fast food restaurant: a number, an order, a box to be ticked, and then onto the next one. There is little ‘caring’ about arriving at someone’s home, heating something up in the kitchen, checking a medication box and leaving with barely a conversation in between.
It was not until I began working in the office to recruit care workers and noticed a UKHCA pamphlet lying around which had an article about this issue, that I realised that not only was this practice of not paying care worker’s travel time unfair, but it was actually illegal.
I broached the subject with my manager several times only to be rebuffed, until eventually discussing the issue at a senior management meeting.
The managing director told me that I did not know anything about business, and that I did not speak for the care workers, who were ‘fine the way things are’ and happy with their pay. He offered excuses such as increased pay on bank holidays and pay for training, which don’t affect the compliance with the national minimum wage for the rest of the time.
Care workers can report this to HMRC but the vast majority don’t – and even if they do, a lack of resources means investigations are rare.
What’s needed is a focused campaign to halt rogue companies from treating staff and service users in this way, which will need to include an increase in awareness among care workers so that they know what their rights are.
For the sake of those who are cared for – and for care workers themselves – we need to see a fundamental change in the way homecare is delivered.
We are all going to grow old, we all have elderly parents, grandparents and so on. Care affects us all and we should not be providing elderly and vulnerable people with substandard care.
We need to stop treating care workers like disposable labour, not even worthy of the basic minimum wage, when people’s lives are in their hands.
The author of this article is a former care worker who prefers to remain anonymous.
Paul Blomfield MP has organised a Westminster Hall debate on minimum wage enforcement in the homecare sector on Wednesday afternoon. Please encourage your local MP to attend via this email action.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.