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By Debbie le Quesne

Care minister seeks help from frontline workers

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When you don’t know the way ahead, ask a care worker on the frontline.

Well, at least that seems exactly what the government is doing at present.

Care minister Norman Lamb has called for everyone in the care mix – service users, carers, managers and directors to submit ideas on how to make the home care system work.

Earlier this month Mr Lamb held a crisis summit with home care providers on how to improve standards.

Simultaneously, business secretary Vince Cable told us that he is undertaking a fact-finding review of zero hours contracts – and some, if not an awful lot, of domiciliary staff have them.

The care minister’s crisis meeting followed a Beeb story showing video footage of neglect by a community provider.

Reported in the online CommunityCare, Colin Angel of the UK Home Care Association, who attended the summit, said the meeting recognised there was little new money available to help the cause.

“It was about how we can harness what good practice and innovation there already is across the country to improve the situation,” he was quoted as saying.

Mr Cable has stated that over last ten years there had been a rise in the use of zero hour contracts. True, but inevitable given the financial stranglehold of the economy and government.

With claims of abuse in the air over such working practices, Mr Cable was quoted as saying in the CommunityCare article: “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.”

As far as I understand there’s no timescale involved in this review and it’s all about “understanding” the working arrangements.

I know only too well the financial rigours care businesses face and news of no more financial help is not good. Many can only stay in business by offering zero hour contracts. It’s simple economics – no work, no pay.

Other issues in focus are unpaid travel times, shorter calls to clients and compliance with the national minimum wage. The waters get very muddied here.

I am heartened that Mr Lamb wants our views, though I doubt the care sector will be very responsive. Everyone is just too busy trying to survive, Mr Lamb!

I’m also ever so slightly worried that the call for help smacks of desperation. Truth is, care workers aplenty would probably have some excellent best practice to share and not least a few politically uncomfortable home truths.

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