Care workers are now too rushed to help vulnerable people with essential tasks

Amid cuts and growing workloads, Britain's overstretched care workers are unable to do their jobs properly. It's the most vulnerable who lose out.

Some of the most vulnerable and disabled people in the UK are going without a wash, proper meals and trips to the toilet because care workers are too rushed to do their job properly, according to a report published today by UNISON.

The survey of care workers, Making Visits Matter, shows there is an ‘ongoing crisis’ in the UK’s care system – with three in five (63%) respondents getting just 15 minutes to help with personal tasks such as eating and drinking, or taking a shower.

Councils have cut back on social care in the face of swingeing cuts to local authority budgets. According to Age UK, local authority spending on social care for older adults has dropped by £1.57 billion in just six years, while the Care Quality Commission report that 81% of councils slashed their spending on adult social care between 2010 and 2016.

These latest findings are based on a survey of 1,000 home care workers across the UK looking after people in need, including those suffering from dementia, strokes, Parkinson’s, or with learning disabilities.

They come as the government announced today they have again suspended enforcing the minimum wage in the social care sector, after a tribunal ruled that sleep-in care workers are entitled to be paid for all time spent at the job.

Amid cuts and increasing workloads however, three-quarters (75%) of care workers responding to the UNISON survey said they ended up compromising the dignity of those they care for because they are too rushed – often because employers pressure them to fit in an excessive number of visits.

The findings are particularly worrying given the loneliness epidemic among many older people: the majority (89%) of home care workers do not have time for a short chat, even though the person they look after may not see anyone else that day.

The report also highlights the job insecurity faced by home care workers with more than half (52%) on zero hours contracts, and more than three in five (63%) not getting paid for the time it takes to travel between care visits.

Home care companies are issuing payslips that staff find hard to understand, says UNISON. This practice lets companies mask the fact that they are failing to pay the minimum wage, and stops workers receiving the money they are rightfully owed.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“Care workers and those they look after are suffering because standards are routinely being breached.

“Care staff try to do their best within a system that increasingly prioritises quotas over compassion. Elderly and disabled people are ending up lonely, without dignity and with their care needs unmet.

“Care workers and the vulnerable people they look after will continue to be failed by a flawed system unless the government acts.”

The union is calling on the government to take meaningful enforcement action against care companies failing to pay the minimum wage, and wants ministers to use powers under the National Minimum Wage Act to make employers print pay calculations on wage slips – enabling staff to determine if they are receiving a legal wage.

With little end in sight for the social care squeeze, this situation risks spiralling. Will the government take notice?

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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