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By Debbie le Quesne

Conditional living wage contract adrift from reality

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Islington council appears to be the only local authority that has gone as far as offering a conditional contract based on living wages being paid to staff.

I hear a whisper too that Birmingham is considering following the same path.

As Birmingham providers do not have the extra £30 per week per resident to cover this cost, it would mean residents and their families would have to find deeper pockets.

 

In the Guardian online Social Care Network, Janet Burgess, deputy leader of Islington council, is quoted as saying: “I am really pleased we have got one care home to pay the London living wage. It is frustrating other care homes do not see the great value there is in paying a decent wage for what is a very demanding job – the benefits affect not only the care workers themselves but also the organisation.”

She concedes that local authorities should recognise that they have to contribute some of the extra costs of the living wage. That’s big of her.

Sadly for me, some of the comments that follow in this piece are adrift of reality.

Charlotte Fischer from Citizens UK, which founded the Living Wage Foundation, would like to see non-payment of the living wage in the care sector tackled “to restore dignity for both the care recipient and the care worker.”

I’m obliged to ask: How Charlotte would propose to fund this extra outgoing.

Heather Wakefield, head of local government for Unison, wants the owners of care homes to “stop looking to provide care on the cheap, Care home employees often work long hours and their jobs can be challenging – any employer who recognises this by paying their lowest paid staff no less than the living wage will certainly reap the benefits,” she says.

Hmm . . . For many, Charlotte, especially in small business environments, the economic outcomes would be certain closure. How then would care providers care providers reap ‘benefits’?

I have campaigned a lifetime for quality, sustainable care and my comments here are drawn from a wealth of experience. I applaud the ethic of a living wage, but reality tells me that although Government nods approvingly at such initiatives, there is no release of purse strings that could make it happen. Ultimately, local authorities can spend only what monies they are given or raise at a regional level and for many of them the pot is empty.

If LA’s raise the fees, ages will go up – it’s as simple as that. However, in care nothing is black and white. Many carers work part-time and their incomes are supported with tax credits. It appears by paying the living wage, tax credits could be compromised and some would actually be worse off.

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