Independent agencies attack local authorities over low pay

Domiciliary care agencies are facing financial pressures, a
conference heard, writes Cathy Cooper.

Low pay in the private home care market and warnings of
financial pressures on agencies dominated the UK Homecare
Association annual conference last week.

The UKHCA, which represents many independent domiciliary care
agencies, called on councils to stop supporting ‘poverty pay’ in
the independent sector. By paying less for independent services
than for statutory home care, local authorities were supporting
agencies which underpaid their staff.

Lucianne Sawyer, president of the UKHCA, told the conference:
‘How can we be expected to provide a high quality service at less
than £6.50 an hour in London or the home counties, when the
average cost of the in-house service is £13 per hour?’

Croydon social services director David Townsend warned that the
agencies paying the lowest wages were increasingly winning the
highest number of contracts. ‘Organisations which pay £1.85 an
hour are unlikely to put quality or training on their agenda,’ he
said. ‘Local authorities are obliged to get the best value for
money, and that usually translates as the most for the least.’

And Sawyer said low pay often meant less commitment from workers
who ‘would always be looking for another job’. She advised agencies
to include in tenders for contracts details of what they would be
paying staff and what would be spent on training.

The UKHCA says there has been a ‘considerable increase’ in
authorities’ purchasing of independently-provided home care.

Government figures show that independently-provided home care
grew 400 per cent between 1993-4. And public sector home care
services have increased five per cent in that period.

Last year, 19 per cent of total home care services accounted for
by local authorities were purchased from the independent sector.
But a few authorities had still not spent the required percentage
of community care transferred funding in the independent

‘There are authorities who have managed to resist purchasing
domiciliary services from the independent sector at all,’ said
Sawyer. This was largely due to the belief among some local
authorities that independent agencies were ‘only in it for the

Delegates were told that many independent agencies were
struggling to survive, with some ending up with just £200 a
week to run. Yvonne Apsitis, vice chairperson of the UKHCA, said
many organisations were ‘hanging on by their fingertips.’

Scarcity of block contracts for services was discouraging many
people from setting up agencies because they could not present bank
managers with viable business plans. The UKHCA is planning a
campaign to encourage councils to follow London authorities’ lead
in instituting block contracts.

Agencies which depended on one purchaser also faced an uneasy
future, the conference was told. Many had lost large volumes of
work in a short period because of the community care cash crisis
last year. Authorities’ unwillingness to set consistent standards
for agencies was another obstacle.

Townsend called on local authorities to support new agencies.
‘After operating the usual checks and balances, you have to assess
people on face value,’ he said.

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