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Care crisis: Lancashire carers say they are owed thousands in unpaid wages

LAST week an investigation revealed that despite their long hours and hard work, hundreds of Lancashire care workers are paid under the real living wage.

In this special report we look at the crisis facing the care sector, with part one focusing on claims live-in carers are owed thousands of pounds in unpaid wages.

CARE workers from across the county have protested over £30,000 worth of unpaid wages which they say has instead gone to a private provider.

The carers, employed by Alternative Futures Group which is contracted by Lancashire County Council and has facilities in Blackburn, Burnley and Accrington, regularly work “sleep-in” shifts, which involve staying overnight at a vulnerable or elderly person’s house in order to deliver care.

However, despite the hard work this entails, many have said they are paid less than previously agreed upon rates and as a result receive less than the minimum wage for sleep-in shifts.

One care worker employed by AFG in Lancashire said: “I’ve just come off a sleep-in shift and during the night I had to be up three times, I’ve been wide awake since 5.20am to look after the people that use our service.

“I’ve done all that for £43.68, it’s meant to be my day off but I’m really tired, that’s a regular occurrence.”

According to Unison the council agreed in 2019 to pay all care organisations £61.18 per “sleep-in” shift, provided staff who would be paid £45 per shift.

However the union claims that AFG is instead paying front-line care workers £43.68.

This adds up to £29,000 of public money which was intended for local care workers, but which instead has gone to AFG.

Another AFG care worker said: “It’s bad enough we’re not getting minimum wage for sleep-ins, let alone being paid less than the council have said they should.

“You have to think about how much money they’re taking from the council considering how many sleep-ins we do and how many staff there are across Lancashire.”

Carers took to the streets last Thursday with a protest outside County Hall in Preston, also attended by Cllrs Azhar Ali and Erica Lewis.

Cllr Ali said: “It is a disgrace that they do not get national minimum wage for performing sleep-ins and we fully support UNISON and care workers at AFG in their campaign to be paid rates in line with commissioning requirements at Lancashire County Council.

“I will be taking action to raise this within the authority to ensure care workers get what they are owed and that we strengthen the oversight and scrutiny of outsourced social care contracts. It is unacceptable for private providers to take public funds while floating minimum standards”

UNISON Regional Organiser Dan Smith said: “It is bad enough that thousands of Lancashire care workers are already paid far less than the national minimum wage per hour for so-called “sleep in” shifts.

“But AFG’s refusal even to honour Lancashire County Council’s stipulation that care workers should be paid £45 per shift is disgraceful.

He added: “This is yet another example of a broken social care system where it is legal to pay care workers less than the minimum wage and where it is simply accepted that care organisations will pocket public money intended for care workers or service users.”

Lancashire County Council however said pay rates were up to employers.

A spokesperson said: “The UK courts have ruled that there is no minimum level of pay for sleep-in shifts, however we have expressed an aspiration for the minimum rate that providers pay carers per night for this work.

“We work closely with care providers to understand the financial challenges they face and set fees that will ensure they can operate sustainably, however each provider has to consider how they wish to attract and retain staff, and is responsible for setting terms and conditions for their employees.”

Alternative Futures Group meanwhile say that the rate was agreed with the county council.

A spokesperson said: “AFG pass on a rate of pay £43.68 per sleep-in activity to our colleagues undertaking these shifts within our Lancashire County Council commissioned services.

“This is the contractually agreed rate with Lancashire.

“On this basis, we consider that UNISON are mistaken in the belief that the rate agreed is £45.”

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