The abuse of our care workers

I have corrected a couple of typos in the original from February 2016 and can add the following.

I have now met with a couple of the original care workers and, despite the Scottish Government’s best efforts to ensure these workers are paid a proper living wage, the evidence strongly suggests nothing has changed and many are still being paid around £6 or so per hour. Argyll & Bute Council officers, and elected members, have known about my concerns for the best part of 4 years.

The responsibility for fixing this rests with officers but they have not done so. Their behaviour has been and remains utterly shameful. Instead, they pursued me with the Standards Commissioner for my persistence in raising this and other matters with them. They tried, in effect, to shut me up rather than address the problem. Now, to the blog as it was in February 16, with the typos fixed.

Apologies at the start for the length of this blog but the story needs explained properly.

I have written before about the scandalous manner in which some of the private care companies in Dunoon and Cowal treat their staff. I first raised this in 2013 and it’s been raised by me on numerous occasions over this past 3 years, all to no avail. Perhaps that’s inaccurate: what it has achieved is a complaint against me to the Standards Commissioner for my efforts.

The evidence I have seen is very strong indeed. It has come from care workers themselves and I have been shown their work rotas, payslips etc, some of which I still have in my possession. None of the people I have spoken wishes to be identified for fear of losing their jobs. I have had to anonymise the evidence I have been given and have passed this anonymous evidence to council officers over the last 3 years. It’s actually quite hard to anonymise: names of clients and the names of the staff need withheld, as do addresses and the names of the employers. What I have had to do is convert what I have been given into another format to ensure the staff cannot be identified. But, apparently, it’s not enough to convince council staff.

They could, of course, carry out an audit of the companies they contract with and ask to see the same information I have been given. In my view, it would be simple to find, with very little effort, so is there a willingness to find it?  Who knows.

Mr Cleland Sneddon is the person in the council overall in charge and the person to whom the evidence has been provided. The issue has also been raised on numerous occasions at Bute & Cowal area committees and business days. It’s also been raised by me at the Community Services committee so many councillors know about this too, includiong the council leader Cllr Walsh. The last time I raised the issue with Mr Sneddon was yesterday. The email trail is at this link:

email trail nov 15 to feb 16 re care workers

The Scottish Government recently took lots of flak from councils and Cosla over the funding settlement. The outgoing chief executive of Cosla, Rory Mair, seems to have saved up years of vitriol to attack the government over this. The councils, and Mair, conveniently ignored the fact that in the letter they got from John Swinney on 27 January, he was also giving a huge sum of money, £250 million, to fund social care. £125 million of this is aimed at all social care workers getting £8.25 per hour. The sad fact is that unless the conditions of employment of the care at home workers changes, John’s funding will not have the intended effect. But he’s not to blame: he won’t be fully aware of the illegal practices in the care at home sector. John’s letter to the councils can be found here:

Letter – LG Finance Settlement – 27 January 2016

Here’s how this scam works, based on evidence I have in my possession:

  • You pay your staff what looks like an attractive hourly rate. The example I will use here is a person working for a well-known national care company based in Dunoon. The headline rate is £7.68 per hour, not that far off John’s target of £8.25. Sadly, even if John’s £8.25 was paid, what follows demonstrates it would not even result in the current minimum wage of £6.70 being paid.

 

  • The council gives the care company work, saying Mrs X needs 30 minutes of care at such and such a time, Mr Y needs 60 minutes and Miss Z needs 45 minutes. The council only pays the company for these chunks of time at an agreed rate, somewhere between £14 and £16 or so an hour.

 

 

  • After her 30 minutes with Mrs X, our care worker leaves the centre of Dunoon and travels to, let’s say, Toward to see Mr Y. Her employer allows her 5 minutes to get from the centre of Dunoon to Toward but doesn’t pay her for the 5 minutes. (I have evidence of this because the end time for Mrs X and the start time for Mr Y shows a gap of 5 minutes.) The employer clearly thinks our care worker owns a jet pack and flies to Toward because the journey time is about 20 minutes by car. Care workers often have to lock up behind them, put the key in a safe box outside the person’s home, get to where their car is parked, drive, park then locate the safe box at the next person’s house then open up.

 

  • My assumed 20 minutes might actually be more than that in some cases. But none of this really matters because the care worker isn’t being paid for this time anyway by her employer and they will justify that by saying that’s because the council doesn’t pay them for that time, and that is true. The council only pays for the actual care time so the unscrupulous employer breaks the law by paying their staff in the same manner thereby breaching the minimum wage regulations.

 

  • Our care worker spends the hour looking after Mr Y then travels the 5 minutes or so it takes to see Miss Z, let’s say in Innellan. She is allocated 45 minutes with Miss Z and then is allowed 5 minutes to get to the next client who lives, say, in the outskirts of Dunoon. This journey actually takes closer to 10 minutes because I drove between the 2 addresses to test it. And on and on it goes day after day after day.

 

The point of going into the above detail is to demonstrate what can only be called illegal abuse of care staff by not paying them for all of the time they actually spend carrying out their jobs. Not paying between clients is illegal, be in no doubt about that, yet your council doesn’t appear to be interested in resolving the issue. That’s what you call the moral low ground in my view.

The day in question that starts as outlined above ends at about 10 to 7 in the evening when our care worker gets home. She is paid the grand total of £40.32 for her day’s work of 7 hours and 25 minutes, calculated exactly in line with how you calculate the minimum wage. This means she is paid a real hourly rate of £5.56. She is also paid a generous 10 pence per mile for using her own car for travel between clients.

In stark contrast, council staff and councillors in Argyll & Bute are paid 45 pence per mile and they claim for 2,457,000 miles at this rate. This is not a misprint, it really is 2.457 million miles a year. There would be howls of protest if staff and councillors were paid 10 pence per mile but it’s seemingly fine and dandy if our contractors do this. In total, taking all mileage into account, we travel 3.6 million miles a year here, much of it totally unnecessary. Double standards is too mild a term but at least I can print that.

Just to conclude this, another example of a day for the same care worker starts at the same time of 0700 and she works till 1100. She starts again at just after 1200 and works till just before 1500. She starts again at about 1645 and finishes with her last client at 2050 but 20 miles away from her home. In keeping with the pattern, she doesn’t get paid for the 30 minutes it takes her to get home. She gets home at 2120 and probably starts again at 7 the next morning, a breach of the Working Time Regulations. Her day takes her a total of 11 hours real working time for which she is paid £54.20 or £4.93 per hour.

I need to emphasise that not all the care companies operate in this way but from what I have gathered over the last 3 years, most of them do.

I don’t know about you but this abuse of people I find disgusting. The lack of action over almost 3 years by the council is equally disgusting. Saying so might result in yet another complaint against me to the Standards Commissioner but the truth needs to be told. This abuse has to stop.

 

 

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

4 thoughts on “The abuse of our care workers”

  1. These businesses need shaming into oblivion by the Council, and not picking on the messenger you. Despite the smokescreen budget last week the council remains deeply dysfunctional and still has a “ I`m all right Dick/Jack” attitude ,and the emperors clothes, are still really fine. I haven’t seen a care company that “pays” any differently.Serfdom, and working for your benefits, is how it’s been put to me. Another sad issue is that the workers are contracted and “have to do sleepovers by rota” for the princely sum of £20 for 8hrs.Being a full time carer myself for my severely disabled son (his non-life ruined by MMR vaccine) we save the Council £186,000.00 per year(plus expenses) if he were put into full time residential care . I know of many like myself, who are still young and fit enough to look after them ,but when we aren’t this saving,at our expense, will be completely borne by the Council. I know people reading this will think it doesn’t affect me ,very much,convincing themselves at the same time just like the woman on, question time, on the TV, in tears after her Tax Credits were going to be removed by Iain Duncan Smith.I genuinely felt sorry for her until in her next breath, she said” I have voted Tory for 3 terms”…only when it affected her personally ,was she bothered. Sadly to say in Oban High School I recently read that the number of pupils requiring classroom assistants was ONE THIRD OF THE WHOLE SCHOOL.If that equates down to care in later years who out of the normal neural typical two thirds, is going to look after them and what quality of staff are you going to attract at no wages pay. I know of many carers who out of what they have to live on,bring the cared for people,rolls and some of the family meals they are caring for as the benefits the cared for have are not enough for them to eat .What sort of moral defunct Council turns a blind eye to this and at the same time pays themselves exorbitant salaries, just remember who you vote for next time people,the goodwill has evaporated long ago.

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  2. I cannot comprehend how companies get away with treating workers like this. The mileage allowance is pathetic and the time allocated to reach clients totally unachievable. Perhaps this might explain why we have a vast number of people ignoring the speed limits on our roads in and around Dunoon.

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