‘Abolishing zero-hours contracts will create less control and continuity for service users’

We must examine the use of flexible contracts in social care before making snap decisions that could damage our shared vision for the people we support, writes Barry Sweetbaum

By Barry Sweetbaum, managing director of SweetTree home care services

As the debate around zero-hours contracts rages on in politics and the media, the questions remain the same: Is it a fair deal for workers? Or do some workers prefer the flexibility?

These are, of course, very important questions. But for the social care sector, there is also one question that hasn’t yet been answered fully: How do zero-hours contracts impact on the people who use services?

For the last decade, those of us who work in social care have made great strides in providing care that offers choice, control and independence. The word personalisation no longer just sits in policy and good practice reports – it has been integrated into how we interact with people, provide care, make decisions and train our workers.

At SweetTree home care services, this means people have choice over who provides their care, and when they provide it.

‘No ‘one size’ fits all’

The very nature of home care means that there can never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. People develop trust and strong relationships with individual carers. They want a level of control over their care that means they can request who comes to support them.

Many of the people we support have conditions that change and progress. People want a level of continuity in their care that means they can request the same carer that visited for two hours a week, to start coming to their home twice a day.

Flexible contracts allow this choice and continuity. If they are to be abolished and replaced with fixed hours, there is no doubt this will result in a loss of control for service users.

As an employer, we would be required to always ensure those working hours. This could mean sending numerous carers to support one person with complex needs – even if they hadn’t built a relationship with them or didn’t know what personalised care to deliver.

‘Rare circumstances’

Flexible contracts do not mean that we don’t value and care for our staff, their individual circumstances or their livelihoods.

Our recent ‘Investors in People Gold Award’ was based on the way we develop workers, invest in training, pay for qualifications and notably, offer flexible working arrangements. In my experience, it is only in very rare circumstances that good, dedicated team members who are committed to meeting people’s needs are ever without work.

Most people receive so many requests to fulfil shifts that they need to turn some of them down. But we do also place responsibility on individual carers to ensure that people are happy with the support they’re providing and want to continue to use us as their provider.

‘Change is needed’

All of this is not to say that there don’t need to changes to current arrangements. Our staff tell us contracts that are not permanent and full-time make it difficult to apply for mortgages, tenancies and other commitments.

The National Trade Union Centre recently reported that just one in every 40 of the net jobs added to the economy between 2008 and 2014 has been a full-time job. It’s clear that financial structures have not caught up with changes to the job market and that should be looked at swiftly.

We would also welcome a level of government guidance on the use of flexible contracts by each sector. That should identify any organisations that are misusing zero-hours contracts, while appreciating the necessity for others.

‘Headline-grabbing policies’

I realise this approach is not popular everywhere. But within the debate around flexible contracts, we do need to look at how they sit with other government policy, especially in social care. In reality, it is the voluntary sector (34%) and the public sector (24%) that are more likely to use these contracts – private sector employers sit at 17%.

So, before we promise anymore headline-grabbing policies, the reasons for flexible contracts in the care sector must be examined properly. Otherwise we risk making snap decisions that could damage our shared vision for the people we support.



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6 Responses to ‘Abolishing zero-hours contracts will create less control and continuity for service users’

  1. Terry McClatchey April 14, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

    A poorly disguised use of rhetoric here to conflate flexibility with ‘zero hours’. There are many options between zero and fixed that offer flexibility to employees, employers and recipients of service. No political party or TU has proposed abolishing flexible contracts that are non exploitative.

  2. Bluebell April 15, 2015 at 10:25 am #

    Loss of control for service users?

    My daughter gets social care – her learning difficulties are such that she needs continuity and her medical condition requires experienced carers. In a 2 week period, she can get a different carer every day. I did not used to know who, if anybody was coming, until the doorbell rang, at the time they were due. Some of them had only seen a video about her condition – they had never seen it in real life before. I found myself explaining the nature of her learning difficulties, and all the ins and outs of her medical condition every day, which took me about half an hour. I then had no confidence that I could go out of the room and leave the carer, with her – because there was so much to learn.

    Meanwhile, the carers told me sometimes they did not hear from the agency for 3 months. Some of them got regular work, by making sure they went into the office frequently and reminding the agency of their existence. They also tell me how they have to go and administer medication to a person with dementia – who does not know who they are, and tells them to leave.

    Recently, one of the carers advised me to put in a request for her (as we agreed we got on well and liked working together) well before the next school holidays. Even then, the agency only arranges the care, in the last week of term – because they seem to be fighting fires. So, I am still never know who if anybody, my daughter is going to get!

    I’m not sure who zero hour contracts are suitable for, but from what I have seen and heard from other parents of disabled children, its not service users (at least with complex, medical conditions)!

  3. david April 15, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    Absolute rubbish

  4. Joe Godden April 15, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    I have managed Home Care services and know the awful effect that zero hours contracts can have on staff. Good staff are the back bone of good quality services. Care staff are poorly rewarded for what they do and their terms and conditions are often exploitative and not something that the most people would put up with. So called manual labourers in the dock yards and other industries used to wait at the gates to see if they had work that day – that was abolished, but now that is happening in the care sector. Staff who are adequately rewarded, feel secure in their employment, are able to go to a bank and ask for a loan, must be a basic requirement in the care sector. The abolition of exploitative zero hours contracts is a must. When I worked in Home Care services and zero hours were abolished – moving to bandings of hours – say 20 to 25 hours a week or 25 to 30 etc. there was a demonstrable improvement in quality. With better contracts you are more likely to get stability in the workforce, with lower turn over. This means greater continuty for service users.

  5. ben April 18, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    This deluded attempt to defend zero hours contracts is mystifying. It’s impossible to defend the low pay and poor working conditions of home care workers or the poor quality of home care services that many people receive from their local authority. Flexibility for service users and good conditions of employment for staff are not mutually exclusive – they go hand in hand with providing good quality care services.

  6. Jane April 21, 2015 at 2:05 am #

    zero hour contracts mean no continuity of care for clients and this is hugely important, what you are saying is absolute rubbish. please if you wish to make statements about
    social care tell the truth the only benefit is to the care provider who saves money I work
    in social care and know the difference. Clients don`t want strangers coming in every
    day who may do things differently they want caring well motivated staff who provide
    high quality care exactly as they have requested in their care plan.