It is good to see you presiding over us this morning, Mr Robertson.
They do some of the most vital jobs in our country. They go unsupervised into the homes of the most frail, make sure they take the right drugs, help them with washing and the toilet, prepare their meals and often provide the only human warmth and companionship an elderly person will have all day. For all that, many are paid only £6 or £7 an hour, with no guaranteed work, zero-hours contracts even when they do not want them, and zero respect from some employers. They are home care workers. The way many are treated is an utter and shameful disgrace, and it is the job of the House and the Government to do something about that.
Given the problems, it is amazing that there is so much good home care out there. I have done surveys of my constituents’ experience, and many rate well the service they have had. They talk of caring and compassion at its best, and workers paid for a 15-minute visit staying that bit longer to do a proper job—often a stressful and difficult job. I remember the care worker who apologised for arriving a bit late to look after my mum while I was visiting. She looked a bit stressed, so I asked, “Are you okay?” She said, “Yes, it’s just that the last person I called on died while I was there.” We are not talking about an easy job.
In a privatised and competitive industry, good providers—and there are many—often face the conditions Winston Churchill described in this House 105 years ago, when he said:
“It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions…where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes up the trade as a second string…where these conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration.”—[Hansard, 28 April 1909; Vol. 4, c. 388.]
Now, of course, we have the national minimum wage to prevent the progressive degeneration Churchill described, but the scandal is that it is not being enforced. The excellent briefing Unison supplied for the debate brings out the key disgraceful facts. An investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs of home care companies between 2011 and 2013 found that half were guilty of non-compliance with the national minimum wage. This year, the National Audit Office reported that up to 220,000 home care workers in England are illegally paid below the minimum wage. Using the dodges of zero-hours contracts and bogus self-employment, more than half of home care companies pay workers only for the exact time they spend in clients’ homes, with no pay for travel time and no travel allowance.