Paul Burstow MP: Underpaid carers – not legal, not fair, ‘and it needs to stop’

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow calls for the Government to recognise the value of care before it is too late. Thousands of vulnerable people rely on the social care system for support; they simply cannot cope without it. Getting up, going to the toilet, washing, dressing – the things we take for granted, until we need help to help ourselves. It helps millions of people stay in the homes they love, and can offer a new lease of life in residential care with new options, new relationships and new interests backed up with all support they may need. For the individuals and families involved, good care is priceless. And for family carers, we hear time and again the critical importance of affordable personal and household services that can bridge the gap between helping with care and being overwhelmed by day-to-day domestic chores. But for too long successive governments have failed to recognise the value of the sector and turned a blind eye to the exploitation of its employees. The care sector is worth an estimated £43bn to the English economy and supports almost three million full time jobs. It contributes more to the economy that all our pubs, restaurants and cafes put together, and employs more people too. But as many as 220,000 care workers – more than 1 in 7 – are being paid below the minimum wage by cowboy agencies who overlook travelling time and refuse to pay for it or factor it in to rotas. This is not legal, it is not fair, and it needs to stop, so today I’m calling on the government to take urgent action on enforcement. We need a clamp down on rogue agencies breaking the law and we need to name and shame those who are happy to exploit people in one of the lowest paid industries and risk the dignity and quality of life of the people who rely on them. Care workers deserve the living wage, as two expert commissions with Demos and LGiU I chaired last year both strongly recommended. To conspire to avoid paying even the basic minimum to people doing one of our most vital jobs is a scandal that must end now. One and a half million people work in care and most are exhausted. The work offers no real career prospects, poor pay and - with 60% of workers on zero hour contracts - no job security, so it is hardly surprising that annual staff turnover rate is twice the national average. But the reality we need to wake up to is that, with an ageing population, we are likely to need an extra million care workers in the next ten years. That’s an increase of more than two thirds of the current staffing numbers at a time when most people would struggle to present care work as an appealing employment prospect. So, we need a plan. The care sector will be a key growth industry in the coming years, it makes a huge contribution to the economy and it matters most our friends, families and constituents who rely on it. To get serious about care we have to end the exploitation of workers, recognise the value of care work across the board, and start putting energy and innovation into planning for the expansion of the industry, including personal and household services. We need to start incentivising developers to build inspirational housing with care models, encourage growth in care technology and make funding available to professionalise the workforce. And we need to work quickly. The care system is already close to collapse and without it an NHS already close to breaking point will be at ever greater risk of simply toppling over. See Carers Trust response to Paul Burstow's article, .