Speaking during his Commons debate on care workers yesterday, Andrew Smith MP branded the illegally low pay and use of zero-hour contracts in home care a "scandal". He called on the government to enforce minimum wage law and to make sure commissioning supports responsible providers.
Opening the debate, Andrew said, "They do some of the most vital jobs in the country. They go unsupervised into the homes of the most frail, make sure they take the right drugs, help them with washing and the toilet, prepare their meals and often provide the only human warmth and companionship an elderly person will have all day."
"For all this many of them are only paid only £6 or £7 an hour, with no guaranteed work, zero hours contracts even when they don't want them and zero respect from some employers."
Highlighting Unison research, Andrew pointed out that an HMRC investigation of home care companies showed nearly half were guilty of not paying the minimum wage and the National Audit Office revealed 220,000 care workers illegally underpaid. Yet today the law stays unenforced. Care workers illegally get no pay for travel or training time, yet despite acknowledging the problem, the government has failed to take effective enforcement action.
Drawing on conversations with Oxford care workers and providers, Andrew gave testimony to the stories he had heard. With providers ranged against fifteen-minute home visits and zero-hour contracts, pointing to difficulties in keeping existing staff and hiring new workers, Andrew reminded ministers how it was efficient as well as right to treat care workers better.
Andrew highlighted how care workers had an especially difficult time in Oxford East and offered practical steps for helping them.
The shortage of affordable housing and high cost of living in Oxford East makes it harder for care workers, illegally under-paid on unfixed hours, to stay at their posts. Instructing HMRC to investigate non-payment of the minimum wage and pay back workers who have lost so much money was one way, Andrew suggested, of bettering the livelihoods of care workers and help them to feel rightly valued.
Extensive residents parking zones mean care workers can spend up to a third of their fifteen minute visits trying to get visitor permits from clients. Giving care workers a permit to park in residents parking zones would be a helpful way of saving time, Andrew said. He also argued for giving home care workers a free flu jab, just like NHS front-line staff.
In pointing out these problems and offering practical solutions to the current and last Liberal Democrat Coalition Government Ministers for Care Services - the only non-Labour MPs to turn up, other than those of the Democratic Unionist Party - Andrew made clear his own views and those of his constituents: "the way many are treated is an utter and shameful disgrace and it's the job of this House and the Government to do something about it."
You can read Andrew's care workers debate here: http://goo.gl/zPFvKK