Living Wage week – a time to think about the care challenge Labour needs to address


Living Wage week is when we celebrate the fact that tens of thousands of low paid workers are going to get a pay rise. But its also a time remember that under the coalition the number of low paid is growing. This includes the 200,000 care workers across the country who don’t even get the National Minimum Wage – let alone the Living Wage. That this is happening in one of the richest countries in the world is truly an outrage – one that Labour has to make clear that it will address.

The situation is stark. Care workers, the people entrusted to look after our elderly and disabled, are regularly being paid less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW) £6.50 an hour. This is because they are not being paid for the travel time between patients, even though the law says they should be. Over 200,000 people, doing some of the most vital and important work in our society, are the victims of a crime which causes poverty and leads to untold pain and misery for our care users.

Illegally low pay combines with high staff turnover, 15-minute visits and zero hours contracts to create an over-stretched and unstable workforce struggling to deliver inadequate and often unreliable care.


The Government’s stance on addressing this scandal has been wholly inadequate. Even though an investigation by HMRC carried out between 2011 and 2013 reported that half of the care providers they investigated were guilty of paying care workers less than the NMW, the Government has still not named and shamed a single care provider for not paying care workers the NMW.

The only really positive steps to sort out this mess have come from the handful of Labour councils who have recognised that they must do more to improve the pay and conditions of care workers – as Liz Kendall and Richard Watts wrote about this morning. Southwark and Islington deserve credit for being the first two councils in the country to adopt UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.   Adopting it means homecare workers are now paid the Living Wage, have more time to care and receive better training, leading to better care standards. Islington is also making moves to ensure that residential care workers in the borough are paid the London Living Wage.

These councils, along with Lancashire, Wirral, Reading and Renfrewshire recognise that a race to the bottom for the pay of care workers is a false economy. So whilst they may be paying more money to ensure that their homecare workers are paid the Living Wage, they recognise how better pay and conditions will lead to better standards of care. This in turn will save the councils money as they are able to keep people living independently in their own homes, rather than having to move people into more costly residential and nursing home settings.

Furthermore, as social care services slowly begin the move towards greater integration with healthcare services, they recognise how a better treatment of the social care workforce can help to reduce demands upon the NHS.

And of course, many care workers will live in the council area that they work in, which gives councils a further good reason to take steps to improve their pay.

Nationally the Labour Party entrusted Baroness Kingsmill to carry out an independent report into working conditions in the Care Sector. The report highlighted the scandalously low and illegal pay rates in the sector and, as a long term objective, called for more employers to pay care workers the Living Wage.   The outcomes of the review have been fed into the Labour Party manifesto process.

Its crucial that they bear fruit. For whilst its right to welcome the individual Labour Councils that sign up to the Ethical Care Charter and urge more to follow the example of councils like Islington and Southwark, the wholesale change to how care workers are paid needs to be prioritised and funded at national level. In short, this is an issue that the party must be committed to addressing if its commitments to tackling the cost of living crisis are to stack up in May 2015 .

Matthew Egan is Assistant National Officer at UNISON

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