We need to stop treating care workers like disposable labour

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? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

15 Responses to “We need to stop treating care workers like disposable labour”

  1. Hayley davies

    I have worked in care for the past 9 years and have never been paid travel time between calls. Even when you have to wait around 2 hours in between shifts as is too far to walk home in between my already 8+ mile daily walk you don’t get paid for that either

  2. nora knight

    please attend the debate on behalf of all service users and carers. when a carer is rushing from one person to another accidents can occur, i.e. medication mistakes, completion of care tasks and car accidents, all of which are very serious to both of the above. the care worker is held responsible for everything that can go wrong. the government and councils put them in this position by ignoring the carers and service users basic rights and then wonder why there is a shortage of carers.

  3. Kelly

    In this country it is just as though getting old is a burden, people are living longer but sadly the government just don’t seem to want to help them, or the carers working for them. The government puts to much focus on unemployed, benefits and people from abroad. All these will be looked after but sadly some have not even paid into the system.

  4. Jo Knight

    I left community care for the exact same reason, out working from 7 am until 2 pm ( 7 hours and paid for approx 5 sometimes 4 with gaps between client visits) back out at 4 pm until around 10pm ( 6 hours and paid approx 4) so, to get a 8/9 hour days pay I’d be out working 13 hours … I couldn’t keep this up financially or physically! If they paid home carers from the first visit until the last ie 7am -2 pm and 4pm -10 pm – then I’d be back in the community in a shot! Also I got sick of being in 4 places in different locations at the same time, struggling through rush hour traffic and road works and my time machine failed !! It’s impossible and you are set up to fail before you begin, I got tired of apologising to service users and families for something that was beyond my control!

  5. Rosie

    I been working in care from 2003 ,no travel time, no extra time (if the client need ambulance or been more hill) the payment for sickness is a joking -lots of time contagious of the patients-no rights-working 12 /13 h a day wining 8/9 h-start work near home in the some village driving around b twin patients and the office take of 10 Miles a day ,calls of 15 minutes is a not good for nothing ,paper work take more time to made ,than you have to help the people,the dogs having beater treat in this country than carer workings

  6. Which women suffer most from the gender pay gap? | Left Foot Forward

    […] debate on enforcing the minimum wage in the care sector will take place in Westminster Hall […]

  7. David Davies

    The treatment of those who actually fought for this country is an utter disgrace which shames us all. The devolution of the blame for the lack of public services, without the funds, is deliberate government policy. They have already slashed 50% of the support grant for local authorities, and have now allowed them to raise council tax by 2% to `compensate’. Gullible panjandums like Tony Lloyd has donned his mayoral robes, after the people of Manchester said that they did not want a mayor. By the time that he has fitted out his office, and appointed his extensive entourage, there will be nothing left in the Northern Poorhouse.

  8. Alina

    I totally agree with that, even in care homes the service user ain’t getting the quality of care, health care assistance are apart of nursing team and we need to be treated in that manner, the wage is not brilliant, it can be made better, it can be draining physically and mentally. I do love my job It’s very rewarding

  9. Mary

    I have worked as a carer for many years now and it has went from bad to worse as the years have went on, it is not about giving the best care anymore it is all about profit and it is disgusting, at present we don’t get paid the time between visits but we do get the petrol allowance but in April that will change as they say they can no longer afford to pay petrol allowance which will be a hardship for a lot of carers, on my rota they say the time between each call is a 5 minute drive even though it could be a 20 minute drive which puts a lot of pressure on carers and makes them rush which is when mistakes are made this therefore could mean an extra hour of your own time added onto your day just to visit each service user and when we complain it falls on deaf ears, so I could work 10 hours and be paid for 7, I thought this was my job for life but I am having to rethink as the financial burden on me will be too much.

  10. John Woods

    The difficulty with people in many professions is that they do the work they love to do. Employers know this and take advantage of it. In a job like a care worker, or a baby-sitter, where the worker is working for an agency, the rate they are paid is the same as if they were working for the provider. On top of that rate the agency takes about 20% which could have gone to the worker if the provider could afford to employ them full-time. It is time to sort out this mess that harms both provider and worker.

  11. Nick

    firstly lets get some facts straight. you cant just import carer’s there a very rare breed of people

    my wife is carer and according to her chief executive she is a natural

    you can learn the role if you have had a caring attitude for others from a young age but failing that you will struggle in the role as the demands are very great especially for my wife who deals in end of life only

    the whole of the caring industry need to bring this type of role in to making it fully professional just like as nursing as any nurse will tell you a cares role is just as demanding as theirs

  12. Linda

    I have worked in the community for nearly 13 years, and never been paid time between calls. It’s a disgrace, what happened to equal rights, Council workers are doing exactly the same job, it’s time to speak and be back payed all these years. I wrote to Nicola Sturgeon last week, and I am still waiting on a reply. Speak. Out now!!!!!!

  13. E C

    You can stop calling them service users for a start. They are elderly people.

  14. Anthony D

    My wife works as a care worker for my local council. In the past few years she has seen a decline in the quality of service, reduced pay through creative accounting, a shift pattern which make it difficult to find another job to help support a family and reduced time spent with clients.
    The shift pattern was 4 days (Mornings or Evenings) ON & 4 days OFF. That has just changed. Now its 4 mornings followed by 4 evenings. They are also giving areas to the private sector without notifying carers or clients.
    There is total disregard for anyone who cannot work these hours due to children or other family commitments as some carers also care for their own family members.
    Those who worked in the recently privatised area still have jobs, but now have to travel some distance to work in other arrears.
    Travelling time is paid, but they only allow 5 minutes to go from one call to the next. From one end of the county to the other takes 25minutes if there is no traffic, so workers are nearly always late & some clients miss hospital appointments because they are not up & ready to go.
    The whole system is a shambles as the “Programmers” who make the rosters are either prevented from making the system work efficiently or they have no idea how the system works or where clients live. This means carers often pass each other travelling from one area to the next.
    The walkers are expected to walk to nursing homes 4 miles from where they live to arrive by 7am or finish work at 11pm to walk home. No bus service operates at those times in the area that was privatised.

  15. dj

    I am writing, having plenty of experience in support workr roles in care work companies, and i am now wanting to try to campaign or make things known to the public about how vulnerable people are let down du to lack of funding and businesses making money out of them. The support workrs are exploited with very low pay, inconsistent hours, long hours, zero hour contracts, not having breaks, asked to travel here there and everywhere at short notice without being given the funding upfront to get there. Also low staff moral caused by these things, lack of supervision, and this from companies purporting to be offering high quality care (and often having got boxes ticked to satisfy CQC).Aswell as this often people, service users, thats the elderly, those with learning disabiibities, mental health difficulties are provided with staff who dont yet speak the language well enough to make communication effective, and also care agencies and companies/businesses take on anyone (those with no experience/skill/or interest sometimes in the work). All these factors make the industry a ridiculous chaotic mess, where vulnerable people are often more extremely labelled due to lack of understanding or time provided to them. These people become blamed, which exasperates the problems and is a self for filling prophesy, and everything spirals down. Short staffed establishments, take on staff and the turn over is high, so lack of consistent trusting relationships can be developed. Staff can be often asked to come in on days off so as to keep managers happy with them, and also do shifts following night shifts (where sleep deprivation can then be hugely detrimental to the service, as many staff routinely are in that position), and working three shifts in a row, increasingly where food often isnt provided, or transport home at unsociable hours. Any one ,staff member, who tries to stick up for what is right for other staff, the service users quality of care,(or for their own selves and time off for example) can be most often seen as troublesome and eventually laid off..either put up with the inadequacies to care for the service users, or become eventually and inevitably gradually got rid of, or abruptly got rid of (for any reason they like- as it is very hard to win legally against these big companies). I have seen alot of poor prcactice which amounts to abuse through not giving people rights, choices, dignity, respect, and not being treated with enough care interest and understanding. The majority of institutions are routinely depriving people of their liberty to have the human rights they are entitled (and the care companies profess to give them). All in all, due to greedy capitalism, privatisation, exploitation of unskilled or sometimes highly principled and skilled yet low paid staff, means service users of care companies (increasingly businesses monopolising, or trying to,monoplolise and run the whole or large sections of the industry) are being treated as second class citizensin this country! The majority of the public have more compassion for theirs pets, it could be argued. If you look on glassdoor or indeed or azuna, every other former employee review, of a company/business, tells of negative service to service users, bad work conditions for staff making it impossible for good retention of permanent staff to make the companies good. Also all too often HR and office and management have little or no experience on the ground, in the work, and therefore operate these companies like other cut throat businesses, – AND its the vulnerable and their poorly paid supporters, that suffer. Basic paid staff, prevent society from antisocial aggressive,violent,sexual behaviour, that these service users can be challenged by (their own difficulties), and they are not respectd or paid for it.
    Given all this, i would love to be able to do something, to make my voice heard, so as to enable the service users and other staff to benefit in the future. I would love to get others on board through some kind of campaigning strategy -to actually be able to make a different to this devastatingly profoundly failing industry, that is one of the backbones of this country.
    Please let me know if you would be prepared to help in this mission, by making these issues more public and changing public perception and hopefully get the word across to those who make the policies and enable funding.
    Thank you,
    best wishes,

Leave a Reply