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It used to take Judith Montgomery three and a half hours to earn two hours’ pay.
That’s because Judith was a homecare worker, and her employer had decided not to pay her for the time she spent travelling between her visits to elderly and disabled people.
Judith is one of the estimated tens of thousands of homecare workers not being paid for their travel time. Homecare workers spend their entire day making visits to people who need care; they are constantly on the move.
And government guidance is clear that they should be paid for this: “Unless they are genuinely self-employed, then workers in most circumstances should be paid at least the national minimum wage when travelling directly from one work assignment to another.”
But most employers ignore this guidance – and pay nothing for travel time. As a result homecare workers find that, averaged over the course of their very long days, their basic pay doesn’t even reach the national minimum.
UNISON believes that this is a scandal, and is urging the government to end the systematic underpayment that it believes is widespread in the sector, by tweaking minimum wage regulations so employers are forced to make pay calculations easier to understand.
Confusing wage slips mean workers struggle to see how they are being paid, so it’s difficult for them to challenge their employers, says UNISON.
UNISON also wants to see HMRC publish the report – commissioned by the government over a year ago – into six major care companies and potential breaches of minimum wage laws.
Most homecare employees work in isolation and rarely see colleagues, so it’s difficult for them to compare their experiences. And even when companies are successfully challenged by individuals over their failure to pay for travel time, these tend to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
If caught out for failing to pay for travel time, firms seldom make amends and correct the payments across the whole of the workforce.
Judith Montgomery’s case highlights the issue of unpaid travel time. The 53-year-old grandmother from Bury was illegally underpaid by her employer Sevacare for two years. She would often start work at 7am and not finish until 10.30pm. “I’d be on the go all day for six or seven hours’ pay. I was shattered and it took a toll on my health.”
Judith is no longer a homecare worker; she now works in residential care. Her days of being illegally underpaid are over, but they’re not quite forgotten.
Knowing that she was working more hours than she was being paid for, Judith went to talk to the rep at her local UNISON branch in Bolton. They thought Judith had a legal claim, and helped her with the paperwork for a tribunal.
The tribunal resulted in Judith receiving a £3,250 settlement from her former employer.
She’s now keen to encourage other homecare workers to challenge their employers. “It’s very difficult to stand up to your employer when you’re a care worker,” she says. “If you’re on a zero hours contract, you’re vulnerable to being given fewer hours if you raise any issues with managers.
“I don’t want companies getting away with it. I want other people working in home care to know that they can get what they’re entitled to, with the support of their union.”
UNISON says it should be the government, and HMRC in particular, making sure that employers are paying a legal wage. And when firms are caught not paying the minimum wage because they don’t pay for travel time, HMRC should step in to ensure that appropriate payments are made to the rest of the staff.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Homecare workers support the elderly and vulnerable across the UK, yet they continue to be paid below the minimum wage. The government promised to act, but so far ministers have abjectly failed to help these low-paid workers.
“Judith’s case shows just how companies can profit by denying staff payment for their travel time. The government should be doing far more to ensure these firms meet their legal obligations across the board.”
Nottingham has become the latest council to sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, promising to work toward decent pay and training for staff who care for elderly and vulnerable people.
UNISON represents workers who allow people to live independently in their own homes for longer, working for both the council and private providers, whose services are commissioned by the council.
They help with day-to-day tasks such as cleaning, shopping and food preparation and cooking, as well as personal care.
By signing the charter in National Carers’ Week, the council has committed itself to quality care standards which provide dignity for care users, as well as decent pay, training and conditions for the workers who provide that care.
Signing the charter alongside Cllr Alex Norris, who has responsibility for adult care and health, was UNSION Nottingham City branch secretary Christina Sanna.
“I’m delighted that Nottingham council has agreed to commit to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, which seeks to bring about better treatment for our members working in homecare leading to even better care for Nottingham’s elderly and disabled citizens,” she said.
Cllr Norris commented: “It’s important that we make sure our homecare workers have the right training and working conditions to give the best care possible.
“A happy, stable workforce plays a huge part in this.”
The signing was just one part of UNISON East Midlands’ work around National Carers’ Week (6-12 June).
The union is running public stalls in markets across the region this week, and were out recording public support for homecare workers in Nottingham’s Hyson Green Market..
Nottingham East Labour MP Chris Leslie will shadow a homecare worker on Friday.
Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council has become the latest council to sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.
The Council is committed to improving the quality of care they provide to the borough’s 1,700 residents who receive care at home from care companies contracted to the council.
Councillor David Walsh, the Cabinet Member for Adult Services at Redcar & Cleveland Council said: “We have worked in partnership with the care companies who carry out our home care work to ensure that they comply with best practice in terms of wages and working conditions, as well as performing a top class service for those elderly or vulnerable people who require care and attention to help their quality of life.
“The new contract that has been agreed with by the local care industry and provides for an annual uplift in recognition of the new National Living Wage, provide for the payment for staff in between home calls and is so structured that all staff regardless of age will be paid at least the National Living Wage.
“We are pleased that this charter has been awarded and see it as a mark of good practice involving the whole care community – the council, the staff undertaking the day in, day out work, Trade Unions like UNISON and the care companies.”
Read UNISON's new report on the escalating crisis in our homecare system.
Many homecare workers are not being paid for significant parts of their working day – the time it takes them to travel to and from the homes of the people they care for. This results in many not being paid the national minimum wage (NMW).
This report shows that the vast majority of councils in England and Wales are still failing to take proper steps to ensure that homecare workers looking after the elderly and disabled are being paid at least the minimum wage.
UNISON recently organised a debate in Parliament to raise this issue which was attended by many MPs, from all parties.
Milton Keynes has become the latest council to sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, part of the union’s Save Care Now campaign.
UNISON branch secretary Graham Blues welcomed the council’s move, saying it “demonstrates a clear commitment to ensure that staff are properly rewarded and respected for the work they do with vulnerable people in our communities.
“Home care workers are dedicated to providing the best care that they can,” he added.
“The council’s adoption of the charter enables good employment conditions and quality training, which helps to reduce staff turnover and improve the quality of care for service users.”
Council leader Pete Marland said that signing the charter is “a huge step to improving the care our elderly or vulnerable people receive.
“It seeks to ensure that people are given the highest quality care by guaranteeing the people who provide it are well paid and have the time to care for people.
He added that “we will pay the living wage, not use zero hours contracts and not use 15 minute care visits,” and signing the charter “will give those that need care confidence in their services.”
The charter sets out minimum standards for care at home, for the people who receive it and the workers who provide it.
As well as committing signatories to the living wage, banning zero-hours contracts and 15-minutes visits, it says that people should have the chance to get to know their homecare worker and, where possible, should keep the same one.
It also says that visits should be long enough to allow plenty of time for tasks such as help with personal care to be carried out with dignity, and that workers should not have to rush from client to client.
Three quarters (74 per cent) of local authorities in England are still limiting homecare visits for their elderly, ill and disabled residents to just 15 minutes, says UNISON in a report published today (Friday).
The report – entitled Suffering Alone at Home – is based on an online survey of 1,100 homecare workers and data obtained from a Freedom of Information request (FoI) to the 152 local authorities in England that commission social care visits.
The UNISON survey findings mirror those of the FoI request to local councils. Three quarters (74 per cent) of homecare workers who responded felt they did not have enough time to provide dignified care for the elderly anddisabled people they visited. Worryingly says UNISON, 61 per cent said visits of just a quarter of an hour meant they frequently had to rush the care of people who were over 90 years old.
A similar report by UNISON in 2014 showed that the same proportion of councils (74 per cent) were regularly using 15 minute visits. Given the harsh financial climate in which local authorities are operating, UNISON says it is not surprised that there has been no change in the numbers, and fears the situation will only get worse.
The 2015 survey findings show more than half the homecare workers (57 per cent) have been asked to provide personal care in 15 minutes or less with an elderly person they have never met before.
The limited time allocated means the majority of workers (85 per cent) said they regularly didn't even have time for a conversation during some homecare visits. One third (32 per cent) said they have no time to address people’s personal hygiene needs such as washing, and a quarter (24 per cent) have no time to take people to the toilet.
Half (49 per cent) said a quarter of an hour wasn’t long enough to prepare a nutritional meal, and the same proportion said the shortness of the visit meant there was no time to assess any change in the person’s health.
Homecare workers found the limited time they are able to spend with each person distressing because the majority (82 per cent) of the people they saw on their rounds suffered from dementia and more than three quarters (78 per cent) had mobility issues. More than half (53 per cent) were stroke victims, had mental health issues (51 per cent) and 42 per cent had Parkinson’s disease. Some may have multiple conditions.
Homecare workers also said that more than a third (37 per cent) of the people they saw have hardly ever had visits from friends or relatives, which is why they felt it was important to be able to spend time in each person’s home.
UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “It is heartbreaking and distressing that many elderly and disabled people are notbeing cared for in a humane and dignified manner. Homecare workers have shared their harrowing stories with a strong sense of sadness, guilt, anger, and ultimately disgust, at a broken homecare system.
“Eye-watering cuts imposed by the government mean councils are still booking the shortest possible visits to care for vulnerable, frail and isolated elderly people. Homecare workers are often the only face some people see all day, and they are a lifeline – only they can call for help and ensure that the housebound people they care for are fed, washed and well.
“Although the government is going to allow local authorities to raise council tax to fund social care, the crisis is so great that any extra cashwill barely touch the sides. It will also be of little help to deprived areas – where the need for home care visits is greater.
"With the challenge of an ageing population living longer, care planning and adequate funding for social care should be a government priority and it clearly is not. Ministers should stop passing the social care buck to councils, and dig deep to find the cash from Treasury coffers to providedignified care for the elderly. Rushed 15 minute homecare visits should have no place in a modern, caring society.”
Over 500,000 adults in the UK rely on homecare workers to help get them out of bed, wash, brush their teeth, take medication and much more. Many aren't lucky enough to get one regular homecare worker, instead they see a succession of strangers.
Cornish care company Cormac has signed up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, the first in the South West to do so.
The move follows the transfer of nearly 200 homecare workers from the county council to the company at the beginning of this month.
The charter, a key part of the union’s Save Care Now campaign was developed by UNISON to create standards for safety, quality and dignity of care by ensuring good employment conditions and a stable workforce through sustainable pay, conditions and training.
Welcoming the move by Cormac, Cornwall local government UNISON branch secretary Gill Allen, said it shows the company “sending a clear message that quality services depend on quality pay and conditions, and on putting users at the heart of a properly funded service.”
Cormac operations director Simon Deacon said the company recognises that “it is our responsibility to create a positive working environment and good conditions of employment.
“It is important to have a valued workforce, who are supported, which in turn generates positive experiences for people receiving care from us.”
UNISON South West head of local government Gavin Brooks added: “Our members are committed to providing the highest standards of care, and this provides them with the security and reassurance that they will be able to continue to dedicate their time to that important work.
“We hope other providers will follow CORMAC’s example, and ensure that they highest quality of care can be delivered consistently to those who most need it.”
Cheshire West and Chester has become the latest council to sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.
The charter, part of the union’s Save Care Now campaign, commits the council to make sure that homecare workers have guaranteed hours , rather than work on zero-hour contracts, are paid for their travel time between clients.
It also sets a target of paying the living wage. Cheshire West and Chester’s new care at home contract includes an improved hourly rate for care workers, while th council considers a wider approach to chanchellor George Osborne’s ‘national living wage’.
UNISON branch secretary Teresa Connally welcomed the move by the council, saying: “Home care workers are dedicated to providing the best care that they can.
“The commitment of Cheshire West and Chester to sign-up to this charter will support better conditions, better training, and ultimately, better care.”
New guidance from government advisors the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) could see a real improvement in the standard of homecare delivered across the UK, but longer visits to people’s homes will be impossible while the government continues to slash local authority budgets,UNISON said today (Wednesday).
The new NICE guidelines echo large elements of UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, which has been adopted by a number of councils in order to improve homecare standards for both care users and care workers. The Charter means an end to 15-minute homecare visits, guarantees that people receivingcare in their homes will do so from the same group of workers, as well as better training standards so that staff are not sent out on the road until they know how to care for the people they’ll be visiting.
UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Billions of pounds have been slashed from social care budgets since 2010. The result has been rushed 15 minute visits. This means homecare workers rarely have time to administer the level of care needed. And workers are being sent to people’s homes without sufficient training to carry out sometimes quite complicated medical tasks.
“Add to this terribly low – often illegal – rates of pay, where homecare providers are breaking the law and failing to pay the minimum wage because they don’t pay their staff for the time they spend travelling between their various visits. The sector has a workforce so demoralised that most don’t stay around for long. This huge turnover of staff means that some elderly peoplenever get to see the same care worker twice. This is the miserable reality of homecare in 21st century Britain.
“Our homecare system is collapsing, and it is being increasingly propped up on the back of hard-pushed and exploited homecare workers. Only urgent steps by the government to fund the social care system properly will give NICE’s new standards any chance of ever becoming a reality.”
UNISON wants the government to clamp down on the widespread practice of homecare workers not being paid for their travel time, which results in over 200,000 care workers being paid below the national minimum wage rates.
The appalling reality of 15 minute homecare visits was laid bare in a recent UNISON’s report 15 Minutes of Shame where one homecare worker recounted:
“On my run there are a number of 15 minute visits. One is to a man in his mid-nineties who is very frail and slow to move, especially in the morning. I have been given 15 minutes to go into his house, wake him up, assist him to the bathroom, give him a shower, help him get him dry and dressed, and thenmake his breakfast, and make sure he takes his medication. My organiser hasbeen told this takes around 30-45 minutes. Her reply was that other workers can do it in this time.”
And another UNISON report from earlier this year – Save care Now – focusing on the standards of training received by homecare workers found that staff are increasingly being asked to perform intimate procedures that would previously have only been carried out by registered nurses. Changing catheter bags, peg feeding, stoma care*, administering medication and looking after patients with dementia are just some of the difficult tasks that homecare workers carry out, even though many receive little or no training.
Of the homecare workers surveyed who regularly carry out the following tasks:
• Almost six in ten (59 per cent) had received no training in how to attach or change a convene catheter.
• More than half (52 per cent) had not been shown how to perform stoma care.
• More than four in ten (45 per cent) had not received training in how to change a catheter bag.
• More than a third (38 per cent) hadn’t been showed how to carry out peg feeding.
Almost a quarter of staff (24 per cent) administering medication hadreceived no training, despite some of them distributing drugs such as liquid morphine and insulin.
More than two thirds (69 per cent) said they cared for people who suffer from dementia. Despite this, more than a quarter (27 per cent) had received no training in how to work with people with this illness.
A UNISON homecare worker has been featured in a new book called All Day Long, which depicts the lives of different people across Britain.
The book was recently Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 and you can still listen to hear the story of the homecare worker (it starts 7 minutes in).
UNISON is today (Tuesday) launching a new report which uses the voices of care workers - and those who rely on care - to lay bare the crisis that has engulfed the sector.
15 Minutes of Shame: Stories from Britain's Homecare Frontline is a compilation of accounts that reveal how poverty pay, zero hour contracts, poor training and rushed visits is having a detrimental impact on vulnerable and elderly care users - many of whom are being put at risk.
The release of the report coincides with a letter from UNISON to the new care minister, Alistair Burt, which highlights the urgent need for the government to address the problems facing the workforce and the people they care for.
During the last parliament, UNISON successfully campaigned for the coalition to begin to address many of the problems facing care workers and denying dignity to care users. In particular, UNISON helped to instigate proactive investigations to clamp down on homecare providers flouting national minimum wage laws.
Commenting on the report, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said:
"The crisis in our homecare system is a source of national shame. Too many homecare workers and too many people who rely on this vital service are routinely being robbed of their dignity. This report captures so much of what is wrong and inhumane about our homecare system.
"The new Government must listen to the voices of the people at the heart of this crisis. We are urging the new minister to work with us as we continue our vital campaign to save our care system.”
One care worker said: "I have been given 15 minutes to go to into his house, wake him up, assist him to the bathroom, give him a shower, help him dry and get dressed and then make his breakfast and make sure he takes his medication. My organiser has been told this takes around 30 to 45 minutes. Her reply was that other workers can do it in this time."
A recent debate in the House of Commons on zero-hour contracts focused on the widespread mistreatment of homecare workers.
Conservative MP for South Norfolk Richard Bacon introduced the debate and said: “I believe that in the domiciliary care sector, there is still what amounts to systematic exploitation. I hope that the Government will look at the matter carefully.”
He went on to say “careworkers are often forced to rush from care appointment to care appointment without being given adequate time at each appointment, or time to travel between appointments, for which they are not paid.”
In his contribution he directly quoted the experiences of some homecare workers.
“After I spoke with Unison, it sent me the testimonies of several careworkers, some of them anonymised because the workers are simply too frightened to be open. One such home careworker wrote:
“I am on zero contract hours…If I kick off, I have the fear that they can turn around and take me off my calls…I work six days a week, which accounts to me putting in forty five hours plus…But I am lucky if I get paid for 28 of those hours”.
Mr. Bacon then called on the Business Minister Nick Boles to undertake to work closely with the new Minister for Community and Social Care to ensure that firms providing care services are taking the required steps to stamp out bad practice and look after their employees.
He also asked the Minister “to work with HM Revenue and Customs, encouraging it to pursue cases where there are clear breaches of employment law—for example, the payment of the national minimum wage to care workers who are not paid for travelling between appointments—so that unscrupulous employers have a justified fear of ending up in the courts?”
UNISON will continue to work to ensure that more MPs raise the plight of care workers and the people who rely on care services.
Leeds City Council Leader Keith Wakefield today signed UNISON's Ethical Care Charter. He was joined by UNISON Assistant General Secretary Cliff Williams.
The formal charter calls for companies that provide care services to minimise zero hours contracts, pay at least the average national minimum wage and move quickly to paying the living wage of £7.85 an hour.
It also signs the Council and UNISON up to ensuring proper training for all carers. Only fully trained staff can provide the levels of care which people need and deserve.
Cliff Williams said: “The issue of how society cares for its growing number of vulnerable people is at the top of the political agenda.
“Our members working for Care UK in Doncaster highlighted the scandal of wage cuts and inadequate resources and training from private care providers.
“What they fought against so courageously is a huge problem throughout the country and I am delighted that, as the biggest city so far to sign up to UNISON’s charter, Leeds City Council is setting a national example.”
UNISON Regional Organiser Dean Harper said: “Historically care workers have been undervalued and underpaid, and compelled to work under enormous strain to meet the demands placed on them.
“This charter aims to stop and reverse that situation.
“These are dedicated and caring people whose clients depend on them for their quality of life.
“I am delighted the Council has seen how important this charter is, now and into the future, to make the best care available to all, provided by properly trained and rewarded carers.
“They deserve the utmost respect from society as a whole.”
The safety of elderly and disabled people who rely on homecare is being put at risk because staff are receiving inadequate training, according to a UNISON study.
The survey of more than 1,000 care workers employed by councils and private firms across the UK, found that staff are increasingly being asked to perform intimate procedures that would previously have only been carried out by registered nurses.
Changing catheter bags, peg feeding, stoma care*, administering medication and looking after patients with dementia are just some of the difficult tasks that homecare workers carry out, even though many receive little or no training.