Today represents a landmark for homecare workers. It’s a small step, but one that has the potential to benefit hundreds of thousands of homecare workers across the UK, and the people they care for every day.
This morning, Islington and Southwark became the first local authorities in the country to formally sign up to the UNISON Ethical Care Charter.
The Charter ensures that workers are given proper training, are paid a living wage, and are not subjected to the uncertainty of zero hour contracts. Clients will be allocated to the same care worker, with rushed 15-minute visits a thing of the past, giving carers and patients time to talk and build up a relationship.
Homecare is a skilled and demanding job, and workers provide one of the most valuable public services imaginable. They provide intimate, personal care for elderly and disabled people throughout our society so that they can continue to live independently in their own homes. Homecare workers are increasingly taking on the roles that district nurses used to perform and they also provide vital emotional support to clients and their families.
But despite this invaluable contribution to society, not a week seems to have passed this year without some mention in the news of homecare workers being exploited. This government has presided over a hugely underfunded system and failed to take any meaningful action to end the practice of non-payment for travel time.
An estimated 200,000 homecare workers are routinely paid less than the National Minimum Wage, mainly because they are not paid for the time they spend travelling between the homes of the people they care for. This is wrong and unlawful.
And it is completely unfair that those who provide crucial home caring services to our most vulnerable people are often forced to be on zero hour contracts, meaning no guarantee of work or pay. It means that talented, dedicated workers are forced to leave the sector because they simply cannot put food on the table.
Thousands of care workers will be working tirelessly this Christmas, spending time away from their own families to care for people, many of whom will not have families of their own. Care workers may be the only human contact these people have on Christmas Day.
You might not like to think about it but at some point in your life, you, or somebody important to you, will require care. And who would you prefer? A different person every visit, who has minimal training and a mere 15 minutes before they rush off? Or a highly skilled, dedicated carer who understands the care you need and has the time to provide it?
It is a promising start to have two councils leading the way in reaching this ideal. But we need all local authorities to commit to providing homecare workers and the people they care for with the level of dignity and respect they deserve.