Baroness Kingsmill, the Labour peer tasked with leading the Kingsmill review into exploitation in the care sector, warns that exploitation of care workers is leaving the elderly and vulnerable at risk.
The report describes a “toxic combination of conditions” for nursing home and homecare staff meaning that frail, elderly people are not receiving vital help. Baroness Kingsmill said “Care work is in crisis: people who may be vulnerable are not being treated with the care and attention they deserve. All too often, their only source of support, Care Workers, are exhausted, unable to plan their own lives through insecure contracts, and unable to spend enough quality time with the person in receipt of care.”
In particular, the report criticises the use of zero-hours contracts. One in five Care Workers are employed on zero-hours contracts and must agree to work exclusively for a single employer with no promise of enough hours to make ends meet. It also highlighted that a fifth of care workers joining the sector have no experience before starting and a third have no further training to update their skills following commencement of employment.
The report concludes that there is no basic job stability and many Care Workers are paid effectively below the minimum wage. Last year HMRC caught more than 700 companies breaking minimum wage laws.
Commenting on the report, Richard Hawkes, chair of the Care and Support Alliance said “Our members regularly hear from older and disabled people – and their carers – that getting support is a battle and that the help they receive isn’t up to scratch. Sitting behind the issues of exploitation in care is a story of chronic under-funding that has seen councils ration and restrict care and has undermined commissioning and provision of high-quality care that puts the person first.”
The report calls for the status of caring to be upgraded urgently with a long-term objective for “professionalisation” of care workers with a register for all Care Workers and formal training provision. In the immediate term it calls for the abolition of zero-hours contracts and more strict enforcement of the minimum wage in the care industry, along with the introduction of a “licence to practise” for care managers.
Baroness Kingsmill said “All too often during the course of this review I’ve heard the words ‘I’m just a Care Worker’. How unfair it sounds. Care Workers often have to deal with complex feeding methods, use hoists for moving clients, dress wounds, administer medication, and provide vital emotional and domestic support for care recipients. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted and it’s certainly not ‘just a job’.” She added “Care Workers are undervalued, underpaid and under trained. They don’t have the status of Nurses. They don’t have the status of Child-Minders. The sector is subject to weak regulation. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know what qualifications they hold and they are not registered with any professional body. This workforce of 1.8 million people in England is almost invisible.”