Beth Farhat column: End the scandal of illegally paid care workers

Regional head of the TUC says many care workers are being paid below the minimum wage

Iain Buist Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC
Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC

Care workers looking after the most vulnerable people in the UK – the elderly and the disabled - are being illegally paid below the national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour. According to the National Audit Office a staggering 220,000 care workers are being exploited in this way.

This is in part because, whilst the advertised rate may be above the minimum wage, most care workers are on zero hours or temporary agency contracts, with the employers cutting out paid time wherever they can. A full day on the job can translate into only a handful of paid hours.

In 2011 and 2013 HMRC investigated the care sector and found that only half of care providers were paying the national minimum wage. Thanks to their investigation several companies were forced to pay care workers the money that they were legally owed.

Now, because of the ongoing cuts to care budgets and a lack of follow up action from HMRC, the situation has become worse and now nearly a quarter of a million care workers across the UK are being illegally paid. This practice is hurting people who need care.

Vince Cable could make a difference. Dr Cable could instruct HMRC to investigate again, to name and shame some of the biggest care providers in the country but so far he hasn’t.

One way employers under-pay home care workers is by only paying them for the time they spend caring for people in their own homes. This means the time they spend traveling between visits is unpaid.

Sadly many care workers are also not given enough time to care for people with dignity. This puts care workers in an agonising position because they know they are being taken advantage of and losing money they need for their own families, but they care deeply about the people they work with.

This sometimes puts care workers under pressure to leave their visits early to avoid having their wages pulled down. Whereas others regularly stay longer and work for free to just make sure the person gets the care they need and deserve.

Many good care workers get fed up with the situation and find other work, and the high turnover means a lack of continuity of care. This is a recognised problem, yet Vince Cable still refuses to act.

One hundred MPs have signed an Early Day Motion saying they “strenuously suggest that HMRC launch a programme of proactive investigations into the sector to help end non-compliance with the NMW.”

Vince Cable talks a lot about transparency and fair pay – so why isn’t he investigating the illegal payment of care workers? We believe he hasn’t acted because there hasn’t been pressure from the public.

This is about looking after the vulnerable people in our society, and paying people legally and fairly. So, if you know someone who needs care, or are concerned about what’s happening to the most vulnerable and elderly people in our communities who need care, please sign the petition at www.goingtowork.org.uk .

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