Rise in zero hours contracts shame councils and hit elderly and vulnerable

*97% of all councils are using contracts which don’t guarantee care providers any work from one week to the next

  • Councils commissioning care from 100+ providers
  • fuels the use of zero hours contracts

The rise in the use of zero hours contracts in homecare services is being fuelled by the way councils commission care and is leading to worse services for the elderly and some of the most vulnerable people in our society warns UNISON, the UK’s largest union.
The crisis in home care is being made worse by councils commissioning homecare from a huge number of private and voluntary sector providers on contracts that don’t guarantee them any work.

The way councils’ commission care means that they have a large numbers of contractors on their books but do not guarantee them specific hours from one week to the next. This in turn fuels the use of zero hours contracts for homecare workers, fuelling insecurity and low pay and causing high staff turnover in the sector. This has a detrimental impact on services and in turn on the elderly and vulnerable people who rely on them.

This model of commissioning homecare leads to a decline in standards, which the union says is putting the elderly and vulnerable at risk on a daily basis. As more and more private companies cut corners on care to protect profits, the union is putting pressure on councils to commission services in a way that safeguards basic standards.

Commissioning care from so many providers prevents councils having proper oversight of how contracts are run, how staff are treated, and most importantly the quality of services that are provided.
At the very least the union is calling on councils to adopt the union’s ethical care charter, which sets out basic terms and conditions for them to abide by when they commission homecare services. Councils must also commission care from the number of providers that they can properly scrutinise says the union.

Freedom of Information requests for the union show that more than 50% of councils commission homecare from 20 plus providers. More than 20 councils commission care from more than 50 providers, with nine buying in services from more than 100 private and voluntary sector organisations.  
 Heather Wakefield, UNISON head of local government, said:
“The rise in zero hours contacts in homecare shames councils and leads to worse care for our elderly and vulnerable. The elderly deserve better – much better – and so do homecare workers.
“ When councils commission care from a large number of providers there’s a greater chance that they won’t be guaranteeing care companies a set number of hours. This uncertainty is passed onto already low paid care workers in the form of zero hours contracts. Care workers on these terrible contracts don’t have any idea how much money they’ll take home from one week to the next. This fuels high staff turnover which has a hugely detrimental impact on service quality.  

“Councils no longer have proper insight into how homecare services are run. Privatisation, huge budget cuts, a proliferation of providers, and a situation where councils can commission care from hundreds of different organisations has been synonymous with drastically declining standards. This all adds up to putting elderly and vulnerable people at risk.
“We want councils to look again at the way they commission homecare services. We’ve drawn up an ethical care charter which sets out the minimum standards they should abide by when commissioning care services. We’re facing an elderly care crisis in the UK and unless we take urgent action, things will only get worse.”

Councils who commission 100+ providers
Hampshire County Council – 234
North Yorkshire County Council – 172
Birmingham City Council – 163
Lancashire County Council – 138
Devon County Council – 127
Kent County Council – 123
Suffolk County Council – 119
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council – 110
Cornwall Council – 104
*Out of 196 councils who have replied UK wide only 6 have either total in-house models or guaranteed hours for all their external problems – 3%

A further 31 (16%) use both block contracts and flexible contracts, with 81% of councils commission where there is no guarantee at all of any hours to providers = 97% overall do not guarantee hours to all of their providers.