Don’t make care workers pay for the crisis in social care!

We must renationalise and reunite social care with healthcare, and pay all workers in the sector a decent wage.

Proletarian writers

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Mental health charity Mencap has been pleading poverty, claiming it simply isn’t able to pay its staff a decent wage without going bust. But why are we relying on charities to do this vital work in the first place, and why should such organisations’ bottom lines be used as a justification for plunging key workers ever deeper into poverty?

Proletarian writers

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Since an employment tribunal ruling in 2017, careworkers working a ‘sleep-in’ shift have been entitled to the national minimum hourly rate. But this ruling has just been overturned by another, threatening to take us back to the bad old days when care workers on sleep-in shifts were only paid a flat rate.

The term ‘sleep-in’ is misleading. The reality is that the worker takes full responsibility for the welfare of vulnerable clients, often with complex needs, during the course of a night.

Any ‘sleeping’ that gets done is on the basis of keeping one eye open, ready to deal with whatever the night throws at you. It is responsible work that demands decent remuneration.

The 2017 ruling doubled the pay for a ‘sleep-in’ from £35 to £70 and required providers to recompense their workers for six years of back-pay. The court case that has just reversed this judgement was brought by two careworkers against the Mencap mental health charity.

This time, the court came down on Mencap’s side, opening the door to care providers to go back to paying a flat rate again.

The likely consequences of this is that careworkers, already hard-pressed by pandemic conditions, will face real hardship.

The Guardian quotes one support worker dealing with highly vulnerable disabled clients as saying he would lose about £160 a month if his employers reverted to the old rates: “We are really panicking. People have mortgages to pay and children to feed. The impact would be massive.” (Sleep-in care workers entitled to minimum wage only when awake, court rules by Patrick Butler, The Guardian, 19 March 2021)

Care providers in the charitable sector claim that paying the hourly minimum wage overnight would bankrupt them, but there is no way that workers should be expected to keep providers afloat by seeing their own families descend further into poverty.

We must demand that the government takes full responsibility for the funding of social care, stops shuffling that responsibility onto the charitable sector, and ends the artificial divide between social care and healthcare.