When a care agency cares too much…

by Pseud O'Nym

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Earlier last week, I was surprised to learn that my care agency was channeling the spirit of Public Enemy, most specifically their song “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”. In it, Chuck D angrily exclaims, “I got a letter from the government the other day / I opened and read it, it said they were suckers / they wanted me for their army or whatever/ picture me giving a damn I said never.” Although to be fair it wasn’t a letter they sent me but an email and they weren’t asking me to join the army, but notify me that I owed them £20.

This exorbitant sum is alleged to have been incurred in November of last year. Why it has only come to light now and furthermore, why they are troubling me for this when I am not in a position to prove either way if the alleged debt has actually been incurred, is something I can’t say. But what it does allow me to say is that it reveals some unpleasant things about my care agency and also some of the harsh working practices prevalent amongst UK employers.

The first question that springs to mind concerns the money. My care agency charges me £21 an hour for every hour worked, of which £10 is a management fee. According to their latest inspection by the Care Quality Commission, they have 500 employees. How many of these are office based and how many are care workers isn’t clear. However, let us work on the assumption that 50 are office based. (And that is being generous, given that their management style takes seriously the Dolly Parton line ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”)

Anyway, assuming that each employee works 20 hours a week – yes, I’m getting to that – this means that those 450 staff work a total of 9000 hours a week, which when multiplied by £10 works out at £90,000 a week. And that equates to the princely sum of £4.6 million a year. I haven’t mentioned that the hourly rate – and consequently the management fee – increases with out of hour’s work (7pm -7am), weekend work, the Christmas or Easter holidays and other bank holidays. Although to be fair, not all of the staff will be working all of the time – my figure of 20 hours isn’t plucked out of thin air; rather it’s based on what numerous care workers have told me over the years – and that within that figure the agency has to pay office staff salaries and other legally mandated employer contributions on the earnings of their staff. Nonetheless, someone somewhere is making a tidy sum and that someone isn’t any of the workers.

Because the workers hourly rate is just above £10 an hour.

A couple of months ago, one of my care workers was looking for another job when her boyfriend spotted an advert on Gumtree for the agency offering a higher rate of hourly pay than she was currently receiving. One would have thought this would have raised immediate hackles and that she would have voiced her displeasure loudly and at some length, but this illustrates two of the many the shameful working practices at work in Britain today. First of all, the workers at my care agency are employed on zero hour’s contracts. There is no guarantee of work and consequently, if one raises their head above the parapets one fears that they won’t be offered any. This is helps instil a docile workforce. The precarious nature of their situation is exacerbated by them working alone, never collectively. Consequently this means that they can’t organise themselves to voice collective dissatisfaction at their treatment or conditions. Although there is always the possibility – however remote – that they are happy with the way things are

Some months ago, another of my regular care workers Simon was away from work because of an illness that rendered him incapable of working for some weeks. During this time, he received no sick pay whatsoever from the agency. And when they do work, they only get paid from the time that their shift starts; they don’t get any travel time and therefore it is presumed that travelling across London doesn’t incur any expense or is subject to any delay.

Cancellations are another problem for me, inasmuch as if you cancel a shift more than 24 hours in advance the worker doesn’t get paid. Worryingly, it seems that I that I am unique in giving my care workers plenty of notice of my intention to cancel but doing so so they got paid. (Admittedly, my generosity is helped by the fact that it isn’t my own personal money I’m being so profligate with, it’s money given to me to fund my care by my local authority.) But numerous care workers have benefitted. Until, that is, one got promoted to an office job and promptly pulled up the drawbridge behind her. At the next review of my needs I was castigated by her a manager for doing so despite me highlighting the dilemma for the care workers; either have a relaxing day off and get paid or do the days work, she was adamant that workers wanted to work.

With hindsight I should’ve called her out on it and rebutted her trumpery moonshine by pointing out the terms and conditions the managers expected their workers to tolerate, the managers themselves wouldn’t tolerate.

And they hassle me for £20? As ‘Public Enemy’s’ Flavor Flav would say ‘Do they know what time it is? I ain’t going out like that!”