Statutory guidance on the Care Act 2014 needs to go further in helping councils to tackle issues of low pay and zero hours contracts, Unison has warned.
In its response to the consultation on draft guidance under the Care Act, the union said the guidance was not strong enough to ensure that all care workers are paid at least the national minimum wage.
“We do not believe that in its current form it will help to ensure that councils do more to end this endemic practice,” said the response to the consultation, which closes next week.
The draft guidance states that councils ‘should consider every legal means’ to exclude providers from tendering processes where they have previously been found to be in breach of minimum wage legislation.
But Unison’s response said there needs to be greater reference to the scale of the problem of providers not complying with the standards, which has seen over 200,000 care workers affected.
It said that councils must be made to take the necessary steps to ensure this illegal practice is eliminated, and suggested the introduction of spot inspections of providers’ payroll records and regular anonymous surveys for staff could help to achieve this.
Compromising care and continuity
Unison also expressed concerns that there was ‘no mention whatsoever’ of zero hours contracts in the section of guidance on commissioning and market shaping for local authorities, or in the wider document itself.
“Zero hours contracts have a very detrimental effect on the quality of care as government ministers have recently acknowledged,” said the response.
According to the union, nearly two thirds of workers in the home care sector are currently employed on zero hours contracts.
Its response said that guidance on the contracts should reflect the concerns of ministers and other organisations and give better protection to workers who need to speak out about problems in the workplace.
It highlighted the link between zero hours contracts and continuity of care, stressing that minimising this type of contract would prevent relationships between workers and service users from being unduly affected.
Outsourcing is ‘risky’
The union also stated that there was no evidence base to support the outsourcing of social work functions, which has been enabled by the act.
The Care Act guidance states that while local authorities will now have the power to delegate some of their care and support functions to other parties, the wellbeing of the individual must be central to any decision.
“Such outsourcing risks fragmentation, conflicts of interest, dilution of accountability, considerable legal and procurement costs, insecurity around re-tendering, and market failure,” said the Unison response.
The union said that contractors should be subject to a number of core requirements including operating on a not-for-profit basis and implementing the national standards for employers of social workers.
Speaking in response to Unison’s concerns, Ray James, vice president at the Association of Directors for Adult Social Services, said: “Many of the new duties contained within the Care Act do take into account the legitimate concerns Unison has raised.
“But we fully understand those concerns, and Unison’s desire to push harder in areas where they have long and continuing interests.”
A spokesperson for the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) added: “The adequacy and commissioning of care and support are important issues which impact the terms and conditions of the social care workforce.
“The UKHCA has repeatedly stated that there is both a demand for zero hours contracts from an appreciable section of the homecare workforce and with the current level of funding by the majority of local councils the use of zero hours contracts is likely to continue.”
The consultation on the draft regulations and statutory guidance runs until 15 August, practitioners can respond by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org