Care services minister Norman Lamb yesterday held a crisis summit with home care providers and care workers on how to improve standards across the sector, while business secretary Vince Cable announced that he is undertaking a review of zero hours contracts.
Although the summit had been planned for weeks, it followed a BBC story which showed video evidence of the neglect of an elderly woman being cared for in her home by provider Mosaic, based in Preston.
Colin Angel of the UK Home Care Association, who attended the summit, said the meeting recognised there was little new money available and increasing numbers of elderly people needing care.
“It was about how we can harness what good practice and innovation there already is across the country to improve the situation,” he said.
Business secretary Vince Cable also announced yesterday that he is undertaking a “fact-finding” review of zero hour contracts.
He said the last decade had seen a steady rise in the use of these contracts, under which an employer does not guarantee the employee a fixed number of hours per week.
“For some these can be the right sort of employment contract, giving workers a choice of working patterns. However, for a contract that is now more widely used, we know relatively little about its effect on employers and employees. There has been anecdotal evidence of abuse by certain employers – including in the public sector – of some vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market.
“Whilst it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly. This is why I have asked my officials to undertake some work to better understand how this type of contract is working in practice today”.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said it was important to stress it was not a formal review and there was no set timeframe on the exercise.
“The department wants to get a better understanding of the issues around zero hours contracts and we’ll be speaking to a variety of stakeholders including industry bodies and unions.”
However, home care providers have pointed out that for many, zero hour contracts are the only way they can still stay in business given the aggressive cost cutting made by councils.
While many carers appreciate the flexibility of zero hour contracts the increase of travel times that has occurred with shorter visits has increased the unpredictability in income and difficulty complying with the national minimum wage.