Unison issues warning on personal assistants’ pay

Thousands of personal assistants employed by direct payment users could miss out on basic employment rights in future including the minimum wage, Unison has warned.

The number of PAs in England is predicted to rise from 114,000 in 2006 to 646,000 by 2025, according to Skills for Care, but Unison said employment rights remained a “grey area” due to a lack of enforceable guidance.

The warning followed a report last week by the independent Low Pay Commission, which urged the government to protect the minimum wage rights of PAs and raise “greater awareness of the responsibilities of those who employ them”.

It also called on the government to ensure councils and NHS bodies reflected “the actual costs of care”, including the minimum wage, when commissioning social care.

The LPC has started consulting social care employers and workers “directly affected” by the minimum wage in all settings to gather evidence and, like Unison, pointed to a “dearth” of current information on PAs.

The government has accepted the recommendations but Unison said it needed to ensure PAs had “a whole package” of employment rights including training, maternity leave, sick pay and the minimum wage.

Allison Roche, national assistant officer, said: “There is a massive gap in this area of personalisation. Nobody has taken responsibility for ensuring the new employers of personal assistants have employment guidance, and nobody is monitoring how it is working on the ground.”

Roche called for PAs’ pay to be linked to training and career development to help stem the high turnover of workers. She also predicted that without adequate funding for direct payments, employers would face a choice of “cutting PAs’ hours or wages”.

The 2007 national evaluation of direct payments by the London School of Economics found that while PAs did not appear to be disadvantaged on pay and conditions, training opportunities were “severely limited by a lack of resources”.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it recognised there had to be a “renewed focus” on ensuring fair workforce terms and conditions were taken into account when commissioning services.

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