Most certainly they are, and I will say more about that later. I support, and the House ought to support, the key action that Unison and others are calling for. First, the Government should make ending illegally low pay for care workers a key priority. Secondly, HMRC should be instructed and resourced to do a proper job in ending the widespread breaches of the national minimum wage. Thirdly, care providers and the councils that commission them should be named and shamed when they do not pay the minimum wage.
It is not just trade unionists, local councillors and those whose loved ones use care services who are concerned about all this. In preparation for the debate, I spoke to local private care providers, and I will share with Members some of the points they made. They told me that care workers’ salaries do not reflect the responsibility they have; that luck and money are all too likely to decide people’s quality of care; that too many staff are on poor contracts, but that often reflects poor profit margins; that zero-hours contracts can be a barrier to recruitment, but that some employees want them; that staff turnover is high because of the high cost of living and shortage of affordable housing, which is an issue in my constituency; and that pressure on council budgets—the point made by my hon. Friend Grahame M. Morris—means that restricted funding is available for front-line care.
Local providers also drew my attention to the fact that in six out of 14 areas in Oxfordshire, the county council is offering rates of funding for front-line care that are below the living wage, even though it has rightly pledged to pay its own staff above the living wage. Providers also told me that upper-tier councils such as Oxfordshire, which are responsible for home care, have their hands tied by the local government squeeze. Members should remember that all these points have been put to me by providers.