Government to launch care investigation as MPs debate pay

The government minister for care today conceded to a call from UNISON to launch a proactive investigation by HMRC into the care sector to combat widespread, illegal levels of pay.

Work by UNISON and a number of campaigning Labour MPs had secured a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on care workers, which focused primarily on the widespread illegal pay rates for home care workers.

The debate, which was attended by 20 MPs, 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.

Over 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.

UNISON urges government to ‘back up words with actions over illegal wages in home care

Living Wage Week: A time to think about the care challenge Labour needs to address: blog for Labour List by UNISON officer Matthew Egan

Hundreds of thousands of care workers paid less than the living wage

UNISON campaigning for a living wage

Key issue: Home care