This article is from Alison's weekly column for the Wirral News. This post is from 27th November 2013 and can be read on the Wirral News website here.
Readers of this column will know that over the past year, I have spent much time talking to people about care.
I cannot forget the families I’ve spoken to in Bebington, Bromborough, Heswall, Eastham, and all parts of my constituency who have seen great stress from not having the support needed for a much loved member of the family. One couple told me about their experience: a care ‘package’ was agreed for the gentleman, including someone to come in and help make the evening meal. But when the day came for the help to start, they were told that the carer could only make one meal, and not something for the couple. Not very helpful.
I’ve heard from constituents worried that 15 minutes is inevitably not long enough to carry out the support needed. I’ve listened to dedicated family carers, who need the right information, and a break now and then. I’ve listed to people working in care who know they can do a brilliant job, if only given the proper amount of time to look after people properly.
That’s why I was very worried to read this week about the Government’s investigation that showed that nearly half (48 per cent) of care companies investigated by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have been paying care workers less than the minimum wage. Reports from the Guardian newspaper indicate that this is due to companies not paying for travelling or training time, deducting uniform and other costs, incorrect pay rates, and other flaws.
The Government estimates that there are 1,750 care workers in Wirral on zero hours contracts. That’s a good number of people also at risk of working uncertain hours. This instability doesn’t help those doing a very important job, at times working with vulnerable members of our community. Wirral Council has responded by adopting the principles of Unison’s ethical care charter – moving away from the zero-hours culture, and the 15 minute appointments that seem so impractical.
Now, the Low Pay Commission have said that at the heart of the problem is local councils with insufficient funds to pay for social care. We have got to address the situation where places like Wirral have received disproportionate cuts compared to other parts of the country. And we also have to recognise that people living longer is a good thing that brings experience and a great deal of benefit to our community, but with it comes responsibilities to look after each other. It’s a challenge that must be met.