Taking care in Westminster

Care workers are the invisible members of the UK workforce, the House of Lords heard this week.

As UNISON keeps the pressure up for a better deal for these vital workers, Labour’s Baroness Kingsmill moved a debate on working conditions in the care sector, saying that too often its workforce is “udervalued, underpaid, undertrained and under regulated”.

She was backed by shadow health minister Lord Hunt, who told the Lords how UNISON had shown evidence – on a number of occasions – of personal assistants being exploited “by the people who have the budgets”.

The union was also name-checked by Baroness Howells, who noted that UNISON has raised a number of examples of exploitation, while employment rights are not properly observed and “bogus” self-employment presents a big problem.

Conservative member Baroness Gardner called for a nationally-recognised standard of training, which should not be too complicated or difficult for people to achieve, while Labour’s Lord McKenzie of Luton called for fines for employers not paying the minimum wage to be increased to £50,000.

He added that Labour will champion the living wage through “make-work-pay” contracts.

Opposition whip Baroness Wheeler said UNISON’s Time to Care report shows that careworkers are frustrated at not having the time to do the job they want to do, and stated that many are providing unpaid care just to get the job done.

Responding to the debate, health minister Earl Howe said working conditions in the care industry are important for the well-being of Britain, but added that terms and conditions are essentially a matter for local employers within employment legislation.

But he said it was important for the Department of Health to work with local authorities to make sure that the providers they commission services from have a high-quality workforce with fair terms and conditions.

Time to Care report [PDF]

UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter [PDF]