Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Ticking Time Bomb Within the Care Industry

Ticking Time Bomb, Sword of Damocles, call it what you will, but there is a looming crisis that threatens to obliterate swathes of the care sector.

What is this crisis you may ask? It's the enforcement of six years back pay to sleep workers. Forcing employers to pay the difference between what they were paid (an overnight retainer) and what the government say they should be paid (a full shift at minimum wage) for all their sleep shift employees for the past six years. For a care company who could have several sleep shift employees, that's a big bill that's suddenly been thrust on them.

This is no idle threat, the financial burden will cripple a large part of the care sector and homes will close because of this.

A lot of care companies are paid only minimal sums and they are struggling to cope with the burden of regulation, training and the minumum wage. Profits have been squeezed and investment is none-existent. Those companies that do things properly are the ones worst hit because they struggle to make a profit.

I did say when the minimum wage came out that it would hit the care sector hard. My wife was working alternate awake and sleep night shifts. The arrangement was she was paid the standard hourly rate while she worked, so from 8-10pm and from 6-8am she was paid hourly rate. Between those hours she was paid a fixed retainer, not the hourly rate because she was sleeping and not working. IF she was woken to deal with a client, then she would be paid hourly rate for the time she was awake and working.

But in comes the minimum wage, with no differentiation in the legislation as to whether the employee is working or not working while on the premises. No differentiation, a sledgehammer that says the employee is on the premises so even though they are tucked up in bed they are to be classed the same as the person on the awake shift doing the cleaning, washing, ironing etc.

As you can imagine, the ruling that minimum wage be paid regardless of whether the employee is working or sleeping went down like a lead balloon in most care establishments. So now most have moved to having two awake staff on shift. No longer can students earn easy money while they sleep in care homes.

Most care homes have a minumum staffing level. It may mean they have to have a minimum of two staff available. The sleep shift was a cheaper way to ensure two staff at the home while the residents slept and there wasn't the workload for two staff. Now two awake staff have to be on shift, for a shift that doesn't really need two staff on it.

I could say that the more unscrupulous care homes will just downsize to one awake staff overnight, raising the risk level and breaking the rules. It'll take a tragedy like a fire at a care home with a single member of staff struggling to evacuate residents to highlight the issue.

Of course care costs will increase because of this and local authorities, supposedly cash strapped as they are will not pay. There will be care homes and businesses that become insolvent because of this.

In the end who wins and who loses?

Certainly the residents of the homes that rely on the care lose out because they lose their homes.

But I'm struggling to find out who wins in this scenario.....