By Debbie le Quesne

‘Marketisation’ driver for low pay and poor deals on care fees

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I read yesterday in an article by a couple of professors that “the minimum wage is becoming the benchmark figure for those working in the frontline of caring.”

Sadly, that’s true, but also know another truth: That the majority of care providers would be happy to pay a whole lot more if they had the funds to do so.

We have just seen the headlines everywhere that cuts in social are funding have resulted in some care firms breaking the minimum wage law.

I can’t defend this action, but I understand how it’s occurred.

Undoubtedly the cuts play a part, but so does a culture of hiving off what were traditionally social care services.

Mark my words the next headlines will be all about the ‘living age’.

Professor Ian Cunningham (University of Strathclyde) and Professor Phil James (Oxford Brookes University) state: “Since the 1980s, governments – Conservative, Labour and coalition – have pursued policies intended to increase competition in social care provision.

“One upshot of this is that the majority of care is outsourced to often non-unionised charities and, increasingly, private companies. Another is that the resulting price-based competition has acted to increase workloads while driving down pay levels and a host of other staff conditions, such as pensions, sick pay entitlements, overtime payments, and allowances for callouts and night work.”

It’s an interesting socio-economic theory that seems to hold water and a rational approach to why the minimum wage appears to be the norm.

But they also point out – and here’s the rub – that “recent revelations that providers have struggled to provide services at the price local authorities have been prepared to pay, or that they are refusing to bid for unsustainable contracts, come as no surprise to those of us who have been researching the impact of social care marketisation.”

They add, in the Guardian online comment, “that action is clearly needed to counter the adverse consequences of these developments for both staff and the clients they serve. The introduction of a requirement on contractors to pay a living wage would be a clear step in the right direction.“

Suddenly care meeting have a new phrase . . . the ‘living wage’. It’s the new buzzword with local authorities and care campaigners.

It’s a noble goal, but one I suspect is a long, long, long way off.

The “working wages’ of which many local authorities are now speaking convert in real terms to an extra £25 per bed and £1.50 per hour for domiciliary services.

So what is the difference between the living wage and the national minimum wage?

The living wage is an informal benchmark, not a legally enforceable minimum level of pay, like the national minimum wage. It is currently calculated by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.

The basic idea is that these are the minimum pay rates needed to let workers lead a decent life. Will this ever catch on? In my dreams.


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