[John Robertson in the Chair] — Care Workers

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:36 am on 5th November 2014.

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Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People) 10:36 am, 5th November 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Like all hon. Members who have spoken this morning, I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Smith on securing this absolutely essential debate, particularly as this is annual living wage week. As Members of Parliament we all get hundreds of e-mails and letters from people calling for us to speak up for issues. I do not get a lot of e-mails from care workers because they are frantically working, but our job is to speak up for people who do not have a voice, which is what he has enabled us to do today. People have spoken passionately about this issue.

Although I do not have the experience of my hon. Friend Mr Anderson, one of the first things I did after becoming an MP was to do a shift with a care worker in my constituency. My goodness, was it an eye-opener. Amanda, from New Parks, loved her job, and she desperately wanted to care for people. She said that she never thought that she would make anything of her life, and doing that job gave her a real sense of fulfilment, but she was rushed off her feet. She was trying to fill in for staff who were off sick or who had left. She said to me, “The trouble is that girls get more money at Morrisons than they do doing this, and they get their hours set, so why wouldn’t they go and do something like that?” That was the start of my understanding of just what this means to people. From the other side, I have seen constituents and members of my family receive 15-minute home visits, which are not enough to get someone up, washed, dressed and fed. It is barely enough time to have a proper conversation, which causes problems for people who are left isolated in their own home.

Many hon. Members have spoken powerfully about how home carers are undervalued, underpaid and undertrained. Undervalued because they do not even get the dignity of having a decent contract—nationally, there are more than 300,000 care workers on zero-hours contracts. Underpaid because up to 220,000 care workers do not even get the minimum wage, let alone the living wage, when they are doing some of the most vital work in looking after people whom we care for and love, and who brought us into this world. And undertrained because around a third of care workers receive no ongoing training, yet they are doing some of the most vital, intimate and personal tasks.

We are seeing low staff morale and high turnover of around 20% to 30% annually. Vulnerable people do not even know who is going to come in and help to get them out of bed or take them to the toilet. I would want to know who is coming into my bedroom to get me out of bed, yet that is not the experience of many people. It is not just that the present situation is not good for care workers; it is not good for the people who use care or for taxpayers, either.

We are seeing ever-increasing numbers of elderly people ending up going into hospital when they do not need to be there, and getting stuck there, too. Delayed discharges from hospital are at their highest ever rate, costing more than £260 million in the past 12 months. That would pay for 37,000 people to have a whole year’s worth of home care. Where on earth is the sense in that?

Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I believe that the Government are not doing enough to tackle the problem. Many hon. Members spoke about the new guidance for local authorities to look at whether their service providers are paying their staff below the minimum wage. I do not think that that is anywhere near strong enough. “Should” needs to be “must”. If people are not paying what they are legally required to, enforcement should be much tougher. It was a profound mistake for the Government to remove the Care Quality Commission’s role in assessing the quality of council commissioning. If the CQC was able to assess whether local councils were commissioning care properly, that would be a key thing to check them on.

In July, the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend Margaret Hodge, said that it was

“astonished that...seemingly little has been done to rectify” the scale of non-payment of minimum wage in the care sector.

In April this year HMRC replied to a freedom of information request that I submitted. It said that half of all the care providers that it had been investigating—more than 100 employers—had been failing to pay the minimum wage in some form, and that more than £1 million was owed to workers. Imagine that. If anyone had stolen—that is what this is—£1 million, action would be taken. I am disappointed that Ministers and HMRC have not named the providers involved. Despite the Minister saying that providers should be named and shamed, that simply has not happened in the care sector. I hope the Minister will explain why not.

Several hon. Members said we need to make sure that HMRC proactively looks at the underpayment of the minimum wage and not simply wait for care workers to ring the pay and work rights helpline. Only 19 workers did so in 2012-13. We know they are not being paid, but they are busy. They are rushing round. They have lives to live. We should have much more proactive measures.