Zero hours contracts for private sector careworkers are not conducive to delivering quality care
Trying to fund care on the cheap compromises quality
Treating care staff decently will require funding reform as care crisis grows
As the party conferences shine a spotlight on the problem of zero hours contracts, this seems an opportune time to highlight the working conditions of Britain’s private sector careworkers.
Zero hours contracts are standard in this industry. The staff are also usually expected to fund the time and costs of travelling from one home to another. Often earning around the minimum wage, yet carrying out stressful, intimate and vital work for increasing numbers of frail citizens – this is a real indictment of our care system. As more and more people will need care in our aging population, this needs to be addressed urgently.
The problem stems from our failure to fund social care. It has always been treated as the ‘poor relation’ in the health industry. Yet poor social care can be just as life-threatening as poor medical care. In the past, care has been left to councils or families, but cash-strapped councils cannot cope with increasing demands and families are unaware and unprepared for the costs they will face. Nobody is saving to fund social care in later life, because they do not realise they need to and there are no incentives on offer to help them plan. Pensions will not cover social care needs.
It is vital, however, that when funds are found, the quality of care must be adequate. Ensuring decent working conditions for those providing care is long overdue. This includes funding better training for careworkers but must also encompass adequate pay and improved working conditions.
None of us wants to become dependent on others when older, but some of us will. Whether it is for ourselves, or our loved ones, we surely want to know that care will be provided by people who are treated well and feel valued.
Can someone on zero hours contract and minimum wage feel truly valued? Yes, some people do like the flexibility of a zero hours contract, but most careworkers would far rather know they can rely on a minimum level of income each week. That will require a new mindset in the industry.
Now is a tremendous time to reform standards of employment in this country’s social care system. The numbers of careworkers required in future will soar, which can provide part of the answer to rising unemployment, but working conditions must improve. More of us will have to pay others to look after loved ones or ourselves and want to know that the care is of a good quality. Can that really be achieved when those workers are not given decent working conditions? This is an issue of immense national and social importance. What’s your view?