[John Robertson in the Chair] — Care Workers

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:47 am on 5th November 2014.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Liberal Democrat, Sutton and Cheam 9:47 am, 5th November 2014

A whole set of practices, of which that is one, result in people being paid less than the national minimum wage. That is why I wrote what I did very clearly in the White Paper on care and support and why, since leaving the Government, I have supported steps to have the guidance in place. I want to hear the Minister say in his response how that guidance will get traction on the ground in how local authorities behave.

The matter is important because we know that the care sector has among the highest rates of staff turnover of any part of our economy: 30% in some parts, and up to 19% to 20% in the care home sector. In the past 12 months, I have engaged with people from across the residential care sector while working with the think-tank Demos and looking at what we can do to address the issues that the right hon. Member for Oxford East has talked about. Domiciliary care workers are all too often hard done by, but we should not ignore those who work in residential care settings and are often paid barely above or even below the national minimum wage.

That is why we need HMRC to continue to engage proactively in this area and why I support the proposition that third parties, such as Citizens Advice, should be able to make referrals to HMRC so that it can trigger investigations when necessary. It is important to call out those who breach their obligations under the national minimum wage. When there is clear evidence that bad commissioning practices are making that happen, the Care Quality Commission should call out the chief inspector for those failures. I hope that Ministers will look at the powers available to allow inspections of local authorities in that regard.

We also need to pick up on the right hon. Gentleman’s point about how to raise public esteem for this work force. They have a deeply trusted role, even if the public are often sceptical because of the stories they hear. The role is important and responsible, and we do not properly honour and reflect that. That is why, in December, the Local Government Information Unit will publish further work looking at those issues and at what we can do to turn what is often seen as a temporary job into a permanent career with opportunities rather than one that goes nowhere, which is all too often how the sector is seen and treated.

There is an economic case for that, apart from the strong moral case that the right hon. Gentleman made. We have a generation in their 50s who are squeezed between caring responsibilities for their parents and their children. At the same time, they are expected to work and need to do so. We often stretch them beyond breaking point, and many leave the workplace. Supporting family carers more effectively and having reliable, cost-effective home care services is the right thing to do by them and by our economy. We recognise that in child care, but we have not recognised it in elder care. We now need to do so and to ensure that people want to work in the sector and see a future in it.

My final comments are about transparency. In my Demos work on the future of residential care, I and my fellow commissioners have said that several things need to happen. We need transparency in the way in which providers operate. There should be open-book accounting so we can see transparently how they are behaving in practice. We also need transparency in the CQC to provide clarity on the rates for care. There should be clear rates. The United Kingdom Homecare Association has produced a formula on its website, and it would be good if local authorities adopted it.

We also need more honesty about the long-term funding of the system, which is why we need the Office for Budget Responsibility to be given a new mandate for reporting on that so that there is more transparency and accountability in this place and we can hold Ministers to account on whether they are properly funding the sector.