Colin Angel: Use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector
Wednesday 30 July 2014In our blog series on atypical contracts in the changing world of work, Colin Angel, Policy and Campaigns Director for the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA), talks about the use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector.
Colin Angel, Policy and Campaigns Director, United Kingdom Homecare Association
UKHCA is the professional representative association for domiciliary care providers in the United Kingdom. Colin leads on social policy analysis and professional representation of the Homecare sector; as well as external affairs. He was previously a Registered Nurse specialising in Operating Theatre (Operating Room) nursing and a social care fellow at NICE.
Homecare services deliver social care to people in their own homes using a mobile workforce required to respond to peaks and troughs of demand, both during the day, and over weeks and months, as individual service users' conditions improve or deteriorate.
There are over 410,000 people working for around 7,500 registered agencies in England, with zero hours contracts used for an estimated 50 to 70% of frontline workers. Over 7,500 locations in England deliver homecare services, most of which are in the private and voluntary sector.
There has been a longstanding use of zero hours contracts in our sector, which appears to have arisen largely as a result of uncertainty of purchase by local authorities. Currently councils buy around 70% of all homecare, meaning that they effectively have a near monopsony of purchasing power in their local care market. The purchasing decisions of councils, and the available funding from central government, largely determine the operation of the sector.
The chronic underfunding of state purchased social care has been the subject of considerable publicity. Local authorities have used their market dominance to beat-down the prices paid for care. This year the BBC revealed that it could find only 4 of 101 councils paying their subcontractors at or above UKHCA's recommended minimum price for homecare of £15.19 per hour.
Councils almost exclusively pay solely for the time a careworker spends in the service user's home. As up to 70% of the fee for an hour of care is the worker's wages, travel time and travel costs, there is little scope for the majority of employers to offer guaranteed hours of work for periods of down-time during the day (typically, between breakfast and lunch and early afternoons), or where a worker's regular pattern of work has changed because their service user has been admitted to hospital, experienced a change in condition, or passed away.
Remarkably, very few care providers seemed to recognise the portrayal of the use of zero hours contracts reported in the media during the last 12 months. It is extremely rare that homecare workers experience the "stop-start" pattern of working described in the press, or that they are required to have an exclusive working arrangement with a single employer.
However, providers were very clear in telling UKHCA that the use of zero hours contracts continues to be necessary because of the extremely low rates that local authorities pay for care, and the insistence of councils paying for care by the hour, or part thereof.
The majority of providers told us that their services would be unsustainable on the current levels of funding, without the use of zero hours contracts. Interestingly, even where employers offer their workers both guaranteed and zero hours contracts there is still a significant demand for the flexible working arrangements offered through zero hours contracts. In the largest sample we have, 24% of careworkers opted for guaranteed hours when given the choice.
UKHCA is not convinced that the economic downturn has increased use of zero hours contracts in our sector. However their use will certainly continue unless the social care system is adequately funded.
As a professional association UKHCA favours better guidance on the use of zero-hours contract being made widely available to employers. We would also like to ensure that careworkers are helped to have a genuine understanding of the nature of their employment relationship and the obligations for themselves and their employers. Clearly guaranteed hours should be available for workers who want them, where this is adequately funded through appropriate fees.
However, if we genuinely wish to see a reduction in the use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector then local councils face a significant increase in their spending, which is unlikely to be forthcoming. Until then UKHCA continues to support the ethical use of zero hours contracts, given the necessity for their use and the demand for them from our workforce.