by Tim Lezard UNISON is urging the government to follow its words with actions following Care Minister Norman Lamb’s request that HMRC carry out a new set of investigations into illegal wages in the homecare sector. The call from the Care Minister came …

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Houses of Parliamentby Tim Lezard

UNISON is urging the government to follow its words with actions following Care Minister Norman Lamb’s request that HMRC carry out a new set of investigations into illegal wages in the homecare sector.

The call from the Care Minister came during yesterday’s Care Workers Debate in Westminster which focussed on the endemic problem of homecare workers being paid below the National Minimum Wage.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “A crackdown on the scandal of homecare staff being paid illegal wages is long overdue.

“UNISON is giving its evidence to the Low Pay Commission today and will be calling on HMRC and the government to bring forward a package of measures to ensure that this abuse can be stamped out immediately.

“Councils and homecare providers must be held to account and should named and shamed if they are found to be paying illegal wages to homecare staff.”

The debate follows a UNISON Freedom of Information request to all councils in England and Wales, released last week, that revealed the shocking statistic that 93% of councils don’t make it a contractual condition for homecare providers to pay care workers for travel time. Of the 98% of councils that responded, 79% admitted that they have never asked to see pay records or other written evidence about the pay of care workers employed by care providers they commission, in order to check National Minimum Wage compliance.

It is estimated that up to 220,000 care workers across the UK earn less than the minimum wage.

The debate was opened by Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith, who said that it was an “utter and shameful disgrace” how many care workers across the UK are being treated, adding that it was appalling that the government has done so little to protect them.

Contribution after contribution from MPs condemned the government’s failure to do more to stop illegal pay rates in the sector, given the terrible impact the practice has on both workers and those they care for.

Even though an HMRC investigation of care providers between 2011-13 found that 50% of all providers were guilty of not paying the minimum wage, and the National Audit Office reported earlier this year that between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers are being paid below the minimum wage, the government had failed to request another investigation into the sector.

One of UNISON’s main calls – for the government to launch a new series of investigations into the issue – was backed by a number of MPs, including shadow care minister Liz Kendall and former care minister Paul Burstow.

Dave Anderson MP – a former care worker himself – made the point that the government would fall on people like a ton of bricks if they were found to have “fiddled their benefits”, and called on them to do the same with care providers that are breaking the law.

Helen Jones MP talked about how care workers were being condemned to poverty and how they were worried about the impact all this was having on the people they care for.

She noted that cuts to local councils – especially those who have to support a greater number of elderly and disabled people – were making it even harder for the scandal to be properly addressed.

Liz Kendall MP made a pointed reference to the “inspiring” work that has been undertaken by Islington Council, which has changed its homecare service following their adoption of UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter.

More than 500 homecare workers are now being paid the London living wage, which makes a real difference to their lives and the lives of the people they care for.

Responding for the government, care minister Norman Lamb called the practice of illegal pay in the care sector “totally unacceptable” and said that he had specifically put in a request for HMRC to carry out a detailed further investigation into the sector.

He also said that UNISON has been right to campaign on this issue and said he would be happy to work alongside the union over the issue.


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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