Care company accused of ‘raiding’ low-paid staff to fund high executive pay

The firm is cutting pay for 'sleep-in' shifts...while spend on management is set to rise.

Care workers rallied across the North West on Tuesday, accusing a controversial care firm of ‘raiding’ their incomes.

Unison members at Alternative Futures Group (AFG) are taking action as new figures reveal that AFG’s cuts to care support workers’ pay for overnight shifts is ‘wholly unnecessary’. 

A sleep-in a where a worker stays in the home of someone they support overnight, and are on-call in case anything happens.

Unison say cuts at AFG to sleep-in ‘top up’ payments is costing some staff as much as £2,000 per year.  Many of the staff – who are paid minimum wage for their regular hours – are reported to be struggling to stay in the care sector due to not being paid adequately at night. 

AFG workers’ overnight ‘sleep-in’ pay ranges from £49.98 in Rochdale to £60.73 in Cheshire East.

The company receive funding from 15 public authority commissioners across the North West.  All but two councils pay more than the £73.89 per shift that would cover the minimum wage rate for staff overnight.

But Unison say the firm takes a 29% cut for themselves before paying staff what is left – far exceeding the cost of non-wage employment costs like National Insurance and pension contributions. 

Analysis by the union of company accounts shows the organisation has high and rising overhead costs, forecast to go up by 20% over a two year period.

The figures show AFG’s executive pay policy cost it £221,000 more this year than if it had matched the industry average, and £547,000 more than if it had chosen to match Mencap’s practice on senior management pay.    

AFG’s ‘governance and support costs’, which include executive pay, were £7.5m in 2016/17 – and are forecast to reach £9m in 2018/19.

Other care providers, with similar commissioning arrangements, pay the minimum wage for sleep-ins – and this is the expected practice of both local and central government.   

Paula Barker, UNISON North West Regional Convenor said:

“AFG are taking an enormous cut out of the public money that is intended for the pay packets of low-wage care staff.

“They are spending a growing amount on company overheads and they choose to pay their executives more than their competitors do.  They have the wrong priorities and they should instead be investing in their front line care staff and in the service. 

“AFG can’t have it both ways – they can’t raid this money for executive pay and overheads and then say that they can’t pay care workers the minimum wage because other income is ring-fenced.   

Tuesday’s strike is the third day of three in the latest round of strike action. Last month there was a 48-hour strike and a seven-day ban on sleep-in shifts. 

Over 660 members were balloted for the strike, with more staff joining Unison since action began.  

There have been rallies held in Liverpool, Burnley, Rochdale and Ashton and staff took part in a Parliamentary lobby on Wednesday 20 March. 
Staff have received great support for their strike action, with a public petition amassing some 13,000 signatures.

The row follows guidance from the government in 2016 which advised that time spent asleep did in fact qualify for National Minimum Wage payments. Although the advice was altered following a series of appeals from care companies, many firms in the sector now pay the minimum wage for overnight shifts.

A spokesperson for AFG told Left Foot Forward that Unison’s figures were ‘out of date’:

“This Unison claim is a red herring. The real issue for a not-for-profit charity like Alternative Futures Group is the systematic under-funding by central and local government of sleep-ins causing a deficit of £8.1M for AFG since 2015.

“Unison is quoting out-of-date information, relating to last year’s accounts, since when the senior management headcount has reduced by two Full Time Equivalent posts. What’s more, AFG pay for every employee was frozen for nine years until April 2018 when everyone received an increase of 2% – hardly ‘raiding staff incomes.’ During this nine-year period AFG Supporter Workers received an average annual National Minimum Wage (NMW) increase of about 3% each year.

“But we are pleased to see that Unison is finally publicly acknowledging that councils need to pay more for sleep-ins so that dedicated support workers can receive at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW).  AFG has been and will continue to vigorously campaign to put adequate funding of healthcare on the radar of Commissioners, MPs, Ministers, the APPG on Social Care and the Health and Social Care Select Committee.”

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

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3 Responses to “Care company accused of ‘raiding’ low-paid staff to fund high executive pay”

  1. Patrick Newman

    This is from the Unison website- ” The case taken by UNISON on behalf of Clare Tomlinson-Blake was successful at both employment tribunal (2016) and employment appeal tribunal (2017). But last July the Court of Appeal found in favour of the Royal Mencap Society. UNISON has now been given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.” Staff are on duty even if they manage some sleep and must be paid at least the minimum wage rate.

  2. CommissionerBob

    I’m a commissioner of care services and I know the struggle we have to pay care providers properly… the system is broke! Sleep ins at NMW is not affordable for the country without more funding from Govt! Unions get the story right!

  3. Chtistine

    I’ve worked for AFG for 20years I never had a pay rise in the last 9 years only a pay cut and hours increased to make up for loss the only payrise we’ve had is because of the NMW increase and AFG were legally made to pay us this, if it wasn’t for NMW I believe we still be on £7 something an hour , it’s disgraceful and embarrassing that staff are having to fight and go on strike causing more hardship just for NMW , not even the living wage but national minimum wage !! we can only hope that the Supreme Court appeal goes in all care workers favour and companies are made to pay this miserly wage to staff for working all night being on call having little sleep and looking out for between 1 to 5 vulnerable adults in a service alone and having to work the next day regardless of how many times you have had to get up in the night , or go home and lose a shifts wage ! this job is about caring but staff need a wage to make a living not a luxurious life just paying our way and providing for our families

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