We don’t value the people who deserve it enough. And that means they don’t get paid enough.
In London last week, the Supreme Court convened to rule on a long-running dispute over whether care workers who stay overnight with those they are looking after should be paid minimum hourly wage. At present, some of these care workers receive a flat rate of less than £30. And for that, they need to be in attendance and ready to supply whatever help and support is needed from 10pm to 7am. They do not have to be awake all the time, but those who do the job say it is impossible to sleep as they have to keep a “listening ear” at all times. They are looking after people with frequently severe physical and mental health issues. The jobs are incredibly demanding.
One of the arguments for not paying is that these carers are employed by charities and the charities don’t have enough money. Also, these charities will face major problems if the Supreme Court rules that back pay is owed.
This argument falls down when you discover that the Scottish Government made a pledge in 2016 that employees of public-contracted private and third-sector employers would be paid the Scottish Living Wage. This includes carers. The Scottish Government has set aside funds to go to local authorities to provide money for pay. At present that wage is £9.30 per hour. This doesn’t mean all these key workers are on this pay grade, but there’s a desire to get them there.
It proves, if nothing else, that if there is a will to pay people who provide hard and vital services properly, it can be done.
I understand how charities will be fearful if the Supreme Court ruling goes against them. But it gets to the heart of our value system. If central Westminster government genuinely valued social care and essential, unfashionable jobs in that sector, they could fix things quickly. Saying they’re going to do something is very different to doing it.