In April 2017, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that sleep-in care workers should be paid the same hourly rate for the whole of their time at work. Until then, charities were paying nominal amounts. Mencap paid a flat rate of £22.35 plus one hour’s pay (£6.70) for a nine-hour sleep-in shift. In May 2017, Mencap appealed and lost. They maintain that as social care is underfunded, they cannot afford this wage and having to pay the back-pay bill for up to six years, would bankrupt the learning disabilities sector. They are asking the government for funding.
A WinVisible member remembers her experiences as a residential worker
Despite being 2017, unbelievably, there is still dispute regarding sleep-in payments for residential care workers and a prevailing attitude that care work isn’t valued, and neither are those (mainly women) doing it.
During the 1980s, I worked in London for three years as an advocate/residential support worker with women. I enjoyed my work and hope I helped women who had experienced the worst life has to offer — racism, discrimination, assault, sexual abuse, punitive punishment for crimes of poverty.
The shifts started at 10am until 11am the following day. Usually there were three support workers, but from 5pm until 10am, one worker was left to support 12 women with complex needs who found night time difficult to deal with. Night time was unpredictable. I coped alone with difficult and potentially dangerous situations. Sometimes I spent all night in casualty with someone who had attempted suicide, or there could be violence on the project, women smashing windows, fighting. I often had to call the police for support, which wasn’t ideal and male officers would turn up. I then needed to write an accurate and detailed report, ready to hand over to day staff, plus make sure other residents were OK. All this, having been on shift for 24 hours without sleep. I could phone colleagues for support, often they lived in other parts of London, and considering they had just finished their own shift, would be tired and needed to sleep.
Staying overnight, we were initially paid £6 rising to £26 as a flat-rate nominal amount, which compared to the day rate was a pittance.
Residential workers can be disturbed at any time during the night. It’s a massive responsibility caring for people overnight and making sure the building is secured. The idea that this isn’t work, is ridiculous. Firstly, it’s the time, regardless of whether workers are sleeping or not, they are present, and ultimately held responsible for anything that happens during this time. Secondly, the majority of residential care workers are women who are undervalued because they are women, as is the caring work they do. This is work and everyone should be paid the correct hourly rate, it shouldn’t be an issue, a flat nightly rate isn’t acceptable.
Yes, the government should subsidise the small organisations and individual disabled people employing their own support workers, who are faced with a large bill for the minimum wage and for pay backdated for up to six years. But social care and caring for people generally must be financially supported. And the minimum wage and other improvements must not be passed on to people reliant on services, in increased care charges, as happened with the cost of school dinners when Caterlink catering staff won the living wage.
Let’s not forget that while saying they can’t afford to pay, Mencap’s chief executive Jan Tregelles was paid £139,091 for the last financial year, for what she describes as a complex role that is not nine to five!
We supported the Care UK strikers in Doncaster, many of whom worked with people with learning disabilities in supported living. Under privatisation, care workers have had to fight for the minimum wage and one in seven is on a zero-hour contract. Many are immigrant and women of colour. Unwaged carers are heavily exploited to provide night-time care at home, and have to fight to be allowed sleep-in carers paid for by the Council. Unwaged carers get a measly £62.70 Carers Allowance for a minimum 35 hours of care responsibilities. CA is reduced or cancelled out by retirement pension and other income, so that for many people, it is not worth claiming and/or has to be topped up by Income Support. The Labour Party has pledged to increase Carers Allowance to the level of Jobseekers Allowance (£10.40) – a move in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.