8 Oct 2013

The grim reality of life on zero hours contracts

It’s 7am and Judy kisses her children goodbye. We’re not using her real name. She doesn’t want to be identified but she does want to tell her story.

Judy’s a homecarer in Newcastle. I travelled with her on her round last week to see first hand the pressures that cost cutting have had on Britain’s care industry.

As she drives us to her first client, Judy describes the pressure she’s already feeling – and it’s only just daylight.

Pre News refresh player

“I’m always waiting for the phone to go and I know that this morning i’ve got a 15 minute gap and I fully expect a call asking us to fit a half hour call into that gap – it’s impossible to do. you end up running late and running behind and you’ve got to cut time off people to fit things in.”

Like all carers, Judy is on a zero-hours contract so she’s always rushing to make sure her clients get the best of her time.

Zero hours are controversial because, for business, they provide the ultimate flexibility allowing them to hire and let go of staff at will.

Yet for workers like Judy they provide zero security. No guaranteed hours, no perks and jobs that can be cancelled at the drop of a hat.

And nowhere is that more the case than in Britain’s care industry. The hundreds of thousands of workers who look after the most vulnerable in our society every day.

Judy loves her job and she doesn’t want to leave it but it places a huge strain on her financially. Between visits she doesn’t get paid for her travel time, there’s only a meagre petrol allowance and she even has to pay for her uniform.

What that means very often is that careworkers like her don’t get the minimum wage per hour. Or conversely, they’re forced to squeeze in several additional calls in the day, so clients invariably get squeezed.

“Zero hours leads to a huge turnover of staff. How can you provide good quality staff when they don’t know how much they will earn? People leave and the lack of continuity and experience means elderly people are at risk,” Judy says.

That’s the damning conclusion of a report today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which says Britain’s entire social care system needs an overhaul.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

The report warns that the way care is currently commissioned is unsustainable, leading to inadequate pay, poor working conditions for care workers and increasing threats to older people’s human rights.

Councils are cutting back drastically thanks to government spending cuts and austerity and that means homecare providers are forced to compete on ever-tighter terms.

The result is homecare workers like Judy are being over-stretched and underpaid.

Follow Siobhan Kennedy on Twitter.


Tweets by @siobhankennedy4

29 reader comments

  1. Fred Roberts says:

    When will this government tell the truth about funding, re their cuts, for any health and social care and stop blaming staff and carers for not managing, according to them, their resources properly. This government, in thier reorganisation, have put in another place for them to blame for wrong doing that being NHS England. This allows the Health Secretary to abdicate responsibility for anything that goes wrong in the NHS

  2. Megan hope says:

    I’m a home carer and the private care sector is a disguising thing!! I’m on a 0 hour contract but over worked and under payed I get calls to squeeze I’m calls so that means I’m rushing constantly and not been able to do my job to my full potential because of this I see other staff doing 60 hours a week one girl got paid 43 pound petrol she used that in 2 days never mind over 4 weeks on the team I’m in we are good people and good carers but we Can’t work at out full potential when we are working in horrible conditions clients are at risk because we are under so much pressure it affects our personal lives as well as a clients!! We deserve better!!

  3. sarah says:

    I am a despondent manager of a Care Agency and I could not agree with Rochelle more fully!!!!

    Well done Rochelle for sticking by your value base and ethics. If we all stood up, showed such courage and actually voiced our concerns at how we as a society are failing some of the most vulnerable members on a daily basis… then maybe… just maybe we could create change!

  4. Mr Jean Lodoiska says:

    I have worked in domiciliary care for 16 years until last year, I was a Care Co-ordinator for 6 years organising care for around 45 carers. I was being paid £8.16 per hr. I was paid a little bit extra for evening and week-end. Then my company propose to start paying me no extra for evenings and week-ends. The company also wanted to reduce the carers including me the amount of money that they were paying on mileage at a time when fuel has been going up and up. I am not blaming the company entirely but Medway Council who wanted to reduce each hour of care by about £1 or more so I left.

  5. Robert Barrett says:

    Tonight thousands upon thousands of elderly men and women will go to bed having seen no one, no kiss goodnight, no cuddle, and will wake in the morning if they are like me hoping they have not soiled their sleeping attire. Which means the first and perhaps only visit goes without any loss of dignity, that is the first hurdle to overcome, then the day takes its toll, the nights get darker, the lights go on, and the bills go up.

    It’s late at night, the struggle to bed, and the leg bag is in the right place the value is open and you lay back and hope for a pain free, mess free night. No kiss good night, no cuddle, just nothing.

    Oh and I am one of the lucky ones

  6. Claire H says:

    Great to see tonight’s segment on zero hours conditions for care workers.
    I used to work for Allied Healthcare but had to leave a job i loved because of conditions and pay.
    At Allied i was given my rota on a Sunday night for the following week- if i or my colleagues turned down work we would be punished the following week by having work withdrawn. As the job is also without sick pay this would invariably mean people turning up to work with a variety of infectious colds coughs and sneezes to work with very frail and vulnerable service users.
    I hope something is done to change conditions for care workers as they are underpaid and under valued.
    Zero hours contracts are simply the wrong thing in such an essential industry.
    It is important the service users have a continuity of care with familiar faces they trust and whom are well rewarded for such demanding work.

  7. Marco Wilson says:

    I have relatives who work/worked for the council on elderly services and I know several of them are totally fed up with the management, as they have removed the social aspect of organizing events for the senior citizens. My partner took retirement even though she was happy working with the elderly, but her management were not fit for purpose. This is by no mean a slur against the managers per say, but the higher echelons should be watching over the lower management much more severely as what transpired in their office should never have led to the action it did. It is terrible hearing of the zero hour contracts, parents, in particular, should not have their family life interfered with, some workers having to give up family times of day. The council workers get a much better deal with holidays etc and the fuel paid for their car use, but it is still difficult for them with holidays when they are parents too. My partner worked for County Council Home Care Services before the local council elderly services so I knew a lot of what was going on for several years, what I heard maybe one-sided but the repetition of complaints means there had to be some truth in bad practices, alienating and grouping staff into sides. In the end the atmosphere got impossible to live with and my partner retired. I should say this was 2 years ago but with more commitments on people’s income, it is probably worse then ever.

  8. Midge says:

    I have been getting carers in for the last couple of months now and they are a god send. Without them I would be a mess my wife works and then has the kids to look after as well as me. The first call in the morning allows her time to get the kids ready and take them to school then she is out to work. The carers get me washed and fed leaving the wife free to sort the kids. Once they have finished with me they are rushing off to there next call often with little time to get there.
    minimum wage is not enough for these fantastic people

  9. Doug Fitch says:

    We found your report concerning the problems with home care and zero hours contracts for carers very interesting and something we could relate to as a young disabled couple in their 30s.40s needing support at home. My wife and I are both disabled with high levels or support needs. We have experienced at first hand the problems of agency care and how they treat their staff and us as service users. For three years we lived through the nightmare of having a revolving door of different carers and no continuity of care. Mostly we never knew who was coming to do the most intimate of care duties each day. Often people were poorly trained and for example my wife uses a hoist to get in/out of bed and one carer had no idea what to do and wanted to pick my wife up bodily. When we complained the agency told us that this carer had been given the required manual handling training and had just misunderstood due to communication difficulty. In the three years we went through an emotional turmoil often leaving us both in tears and feeling we had no life as a newly married couple. We had regular spells of no carer coming or not getting the hours we should. We had carers who took food from our fridge without asking, one helped himself to a beer and my wife found him using my razor. When we complained then yet again we had more carers as replacements, but often when we had a good carer they were gone in a few weeks because the agency had not given them what they needed. We complained to the social worker and to the agency head, but the social worker was reluctant to comfront the agency head as they had a large number of clients in the area, and the agency head jut tried to say we were difficult and hard to please. The situation only changed when after being told we would not be able to, we demanded we had control of our own care budget, and we started employing our own carers. We now employ 12 carers and organise our own rotas and pay etc, and most of our carers have been with us 5 or more years, and we as far as possible give them regular hours and retain good staff and have good relationships with them. If we can do this as a disabled couple why can’t agencies treat their staff as well?

  10. carol says:

    i am 21 and work in a care home with i agree with finding great carers i love what i do but it takes its toll i am a big believer in rights and find most care homes are the problem myself and my employers have been miss treated and paid unfere i have been in tears many occasions as my fello workers.

  11. Peter Jones says:

    The past few days have been filled with this subject, that will never be far away for a long, long time to come. I have linked to your post Siobhan – very informative.
    I have blogged about the 15 minutes and many aspects of social care. The blog post summarizes key aspects of the issue using a conceptual framework. The framework deals with humanistic aspects on the left and mechanistic on the right (SCIENCES & POLITICAL):
    Zero, One, Fifteen, (Thirty, Sixty…?)
    care-S S-cares

  12. Philip says:

    Britain today. Pampered bankers and public services so squeezed that poorer elderly people & their carers get treated so appallingly. Is it anti-British to point this out? What right have we to pontificate to any other country when our priorities are so skewed in favour of the rich and against caring for the poor & those who can’t care for themselves? This is not the mark of a decent society – but one where wealth is indecently concentrated in a few hands & the poor paid peanuts when they work & stigmatised when they can’t find work, where skilled & semi-skilled jobs have been leeched out of the economy, leaving millions with precarious service sector jobs vulnerable to this zero hours rip-offs. What does it say about an employer who requires these sort of contracts? What sort of employees do they expect? What sort of service do they intend to supply?

  13. S. James says:

    I am an ex-Saga client. I can tell you first-hand that their business is a disaster. I now employ direct personal assistants and refuse to pay the enormous agency charges which go nowhere near the carers and only serve to increase the profits made.

    If I can help with any reply or further investigation please let me know.

    That said, I am under 50 and I need care for mental health and physical care concerns. It is nearly impossible to get a personal care budget (despite the fact the care keeps me out of hospital) The whole system needs changing from funding to the demarcation between social and medical care and also the qualifications of the carers.

    I am lucky to have amazing carers that I now employ directly and pay a fair amount including mileage and hourly rates. I need more hours but I make do with what I’ve got as I know that the budget is so limited that I’m lucky to have anything.

    My carer watched some of your report with me as she was making my tea. She worked for another firm but has now gone self-employed so that she can make more of a home life as well as doing the job she loves.

    Carers do a life-saving and vital job that nobody appreciates except for those like me who get care and the other carers who love their job. Zero hours contracts and private companies are destroying their livelihood and spirit of these amazing people. I value your report highlighting such an important issue as the new social care bill is going through Parliament.

    I hope the new bill includes proper qualifications and band rating for health care assistance and carers so that they get the recognition they deserve (even if they have to work for companies that do not value them)

  14. Tom Cunliffe says:

    Fantastic report Siobhan. How people are supposed to cope with this system I can’t imagine. It all makes me feel very lucky not to have to endure such conditions.

    Tom (Naomi’s Dad)

  15. gary says:

    Me and My family are soon to be evicted because of these conditions of work.
    Its widespread and rapidly expanding.
    I work in a famous chocolate factory in the north,where just the wrong look can cause you to lose work.
    The employers who use these contracts are allowing a social evil to take place.

  16. quietoaktree says:

    Only the EU can stop this inhumanity –but this would require the anti-EU electorate to ´choke on its pride´ and admit ´Sovereignty´ means different things for different UK social classes.

    “and increasing threats to older people’s human rights.”

    This is NOT a local council issue –it is National issue at the least and International (EU) at the most.

    –Government incompetence caused the problem — now government competence MUST solve it.

  17. Andrew Dundas says:

    Zero hours contracts are a long-established norm wherever there is high unemployment. Self-employed workers, actors and “entrepreneurs” are also on forms of zero-hours contracts.
    Which is why both France and the USA both have so many more self-employed workers than in the UK. For employers with uncertain flows of work, zero-hours contracts enable them to flex their costs to meet the fluctuations in their customers’ requirements. But the critical factor is the low pay of care workers, not their requirement to work varying hours.
    Does Lady Gaga work on a regular salary, or a series of individual and demanding contracts for her firm?

  18. Andrew Baker says:

    I am a 57-year-old with advanced MS, determined to live at home; as a result I am in need of a great deal of care during the day.

    Hence, I have a lot of experience of receiving care, and am all too familiar with the problems referred to in your news item last night about the state of homecare. There is a great deal I could say but, for the sake of brevity, I shall confine myself to just a few comments. My carers are almost all very good, and highly motivated: they have to be for a job which is very hard on them both physically and psychologically, but which is very poorly paid. On top of that they have to put up with these terrible zero hours contracts, giving them no consistency of either work or pay. The carers are constantly receiving phone calls from the main office asking them, often urging them to accept further calls, even when this intrudes upon their own time. These various aspects of their work — the zero hours contracts, the low pay, and the constant demands being put upon them by the management — puts intense pressure on the carers. As a result there is a very high turnover of staff. A few years ago, there was a fair few experienced staff which provided for stability of service; now, the number of experienced staff is ever decreasing, and in their place there is an input of new, and untrained, staff. On top of that, there is now a constant worry as to whether next week, or whenever, there will be even enough staff to maintain the service. It is a situation which seems only to be getting worse.

    Andrew Baker

  19. Anne-Liisa Duffy says:

    My mother, now 96, suffered a stroke in Feb 2012. After an initial promising recovery, the following 6 months of unnecessary hospitalisation due to errors and oversights resulted in severe dehydration, malnourishment and recurring urinary and lung infections. Eventually, and too late, my physically and mentally weakened and despairing mother discharged herself. I arranged domicilliary care with an agency, and my mother returned home. Four daily visits by 2 carers, and an overnight carer were necessary to keep my immobile mother safe, clean and comfortable, and to enable me to sleep after providing 13 hours of daytime care and household duties, 7 days a week. It was difficult to identify who were the “core” carers my mother had been promised. There were so many that instructions and messages had to be relayed to as many as 24 different carers in just one 10 day period. My mother became severely agitated and suffered alarming panic attacks through the indignity caused by so many different people carrying out the most intimate tasks; and when new/unfamiliar carers roughly handled her contracted limbs and arthritic joints. Any requests made to the agency took weeks to be actioned. The more I begged not to send a particular carer, the more frequently she turned up, to the point of being the sole carer to attend at every visit, daily for 3 months! I soon learned that any request or complaint would bring more of the same! Every invoice was incorrect, with varying amounts each week for exactly the same service. Although family dealt with these incidents quickly on discovery, my mother has been subjected to very rough handling and verbal threats by one overnight carer; and had been hurt several times by a carer who has regularly arrived at calls smelling of alcohol and with slurred speech and, despite being notified of this by many clients, she is still employed and has been promoted! One year of care has now drained £60k of savings, but the carers themselves have seen little of this. They work for the same flat rate (£7.50 p h) day, night, weekends and bank holidays, receive no fuel allowance, and only 5 minutes’ travel time to cover distances of 4 miles. Those less dedicated are frequently on sick leave, or leave without warning, and the more conscientious then have double the normal workload as a result, up to 70 hours a week. My mother probably now has no alternative but to go into residential nursing care (if any places are available) where she may well be subjected to similar treatment but without the benefit of family having unlimited supervision of the quality of care delivered. I blame past and ongoing criminal mismanagement of finances in local government, meaning that people such as my mother, choosing to remain at home, are entitled to receive funding for only 29 hours of care per week; the removal of care home inspection duties from local government to national agency level; care for the elderly and disabled being seen as a profit making industry; and the endemic lack of respect for the elderly in this country. I don’t blame this Government – it takes longer than 2 years to put right decades of lack of investment and planning to provide for an ageing population. But I so wish there was just one place for an overburdened, stressed, exhausted and frustrated unpaid carer to turn to for advice and help. Social Services, Age UK, NHS, Crossroads, Carers Association, district nursing, community therapists, continence service, Centre for Independent Living, local and county councils – these are the ‘phone numbers taking the place of friends, gym, and entertainment venues in my ‘phone book…

  20. Chez says:

    Zero hour contracts in a shop that is open 5-7 days a week is pretty much unacceptable in my book. However many companies use zero hour contracts as the work is not there on a regular basis events, festivals and gigs for example. When the gigs not on do you expect to be paid.
    When I was made redundant zero hour contracts saved me because I could retrain while picking and choosing what hours to do.
    Yes if you do more shifts you get more work. This happens in full time employment, managers ask the guys who do most overtime if they want more first then ask the people who reject it most. Would it not make sense to ask the people most likely to say yes first.
    There are zero hour employers out there who care about there staff keep the teams small and try to spread the work out as much as possible.

  21. Julie Pawsey-Zgraja says:

    Not only do home care workers get paid such a low wage for such an important and vital job, they also have to pay for the petrol in their cars to get them to their clients. Why are these jobs not regulated by the government to ensure that the kind, unselfish people who do this work that not many people would do, at least get paid a decent wage for the hard work they do?

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      You may not earn enough to be a tax-payer. But, if you are, you can claim mileage between calls as a tax deductible expense at whatever rate the tax-person herself claims: 45pence for each mile.
      You may be able to claim a mileage allowance for previous years too. If you have no records of mileage (and you should keep such notes) there’s no reason why you shouldn’t submit an estimate. You could get some tax back!
      Remember! The same tax-deductible rate applies whether you use an ancient small car or a Ferrari.

  22. J kay says:

    The argument here should not be of the type of contract in place, perminate or zero, but the integrity and respect to the employees from the employers.

  23. Liz Mchugh says:

    A really good article tackling a bad issue. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Paul Hanson says:

    I agree with Liz. A very good article. Everyone has many valid points. :o)

  25. Christine kiley says:

    I have been a carer for the last six years do not go sick and help out extra when possible and I have had my hours cut so badly I have to leave , I’m all for contunity as I work morning through to lunch no break and the tea shift plus every other weekend or both if needed and myself and my partner are very committed to our double up round going beyond the call of duty to ensure our service users get the best care from us, but we have been In tears seeing our S/U crying as they had missed calls given nothing to eat, loads more issues yet they take away two experienced senior carers to put in place carers 3 months Into the job who cannot hoist, roll , put a pad on properly . Oh and turning up late for jobs as they have been out partying the night before leaving insulin dependent clients so distressed they are asking why can’t they just die. Our care system is an utter shambles yet so so many people are badly in need of being safeguarding but when you put a complaint in nothing is done and the same people left distresses and the same lazy carers who just want to earn a weekly wage to go out , this is what needs to be looked into not having it covered up. I myself am petrified of having to live the rest of my life being stripped of my dignity being left 7 hrs without water in a urine soaked pad starving. ( must stress not all carers are bad) but the ones that miss the calls are the ones being given a full rota for the following week,why ? Because they don’t whistleblowe like the rest of us.

  26. anon says:

    I an a support worker it’s a tough job sometimes but u know u can make a difference to some
    service users as ur the only contact with people as there bed ridden the wages are low n zero hours means u need to do all hours u can get as u never know when ro t as change service users go into hospital care homes ur hours drop nobody gives u credit for work u do.I actually have a night job doing deliveries to make ends meet

  27. Sarah says:

    I’ve worked and slaved 0 hours for five years most of my wages go in to petrol and fixing my car all the time I have two disabled children I have too work as my daughter has ms and carnt get any dla systems a joke I love my service users and we don’t get any time as social services just love the 15 min calls tht take u an hour too get too the company I work for don’t even give u driving time too and from calls I must admit I do the job because I doo care but who’s careing about the carers driving in all weather conditions soaking wet sweating or in the snow our job don’t stop at Christmas I work boxing day and bank holidays we have too cus we carnt afford too live

  28. Someone says:

    Those who work in elderly care are mostly migrants(from the people that I’ve actually seen and worked with, only a small minority where british nationals) . Desperate people coming from other countries, they all have their share of pain and misery, some are nurses, some teachers, some car mechanics, former managers and so on, they all have their stories, some desperately need money, others had too many tragedies at home, others just want to get away for a while…. most have been duped by recruitment agencies to come and work in the UK as a carer.

    I come from one of those people, the way they make you feel is as if you are a second hand citizen, even as a citizen of the EU,as a carer they make you “feel” just how undesired, how replaceable and how insignificant you are.

    It is truly infuriating that the people of the UK allow their elderly to be treated this way. I’ve seen many video clips where they show carers not doing their job right, as if the life of a carer is extremely easy and they still mess it up.

    They don’t mention the fact that you pay for pretty much everything out of your insultingly low salary. You can’t properly live in the UK as a carer coming from abroad. By completely destroying yourself and going up to 70 actual worked hours/week you can get if you are lucky up to 2000 pounds/month. But the average for a beginner is something like 1000-1200 pounds.

    How on earth are you supposed to live in the UK from that money? You have to buy the gps in your car(it’s not like you were born here and know the streets), you have to pay for the petrol, you have to pay for certain equipment, you need to pay rent you need to buy food and somehow live in the meantime? Just how exactly? Ask around, most people who work for these companies can barely afford to pay for a small room with no heating. No one expects to be treated like royalty here, no one wants to be transported with a rolls from the airport directly to the most luxurious hotel in London. But there needs to be something to make the one who will eventually care for your elderly to feel like a human being.

    Even in the crappiest Eastern EU countries, carers are treated with more respect by the company that hires them. I’ve seen people completely broken after just 2 months of such work, they tell me that they would rather shovel manure 12 hours/day than be a carer ever again,especially in the UK.

    It’s like you aren’t human but just another “bloody immigrant” a disposable object and believe me, they make you feel it every hour of every day.
    You can have a master’s, a PHD, have as many diploma’s as you wish, you can have the IELTS ACADEMIC, have whatever supreme qualifications, it’s irrelevant, you start from the bottom of the barrel and it can take years till you get even the slightest chance to climb up. First year you get no breaks, no holidays, nothing oh and you can never miss work, you can’t take sick leave,there is no such thing. You will work on Christmas,Easter, on new years’ eve. The pressure is constant and it works best on the people who don’t understand English that well. The more desperate you are the better it is for them, they like to threaten you with penalties if you leave and it’s especially bad if you don’t speak the language that well since you can’t get yourself out from a sticky situation.
    It’s not enough that you have to bring about 6-800 pounds with you, in certain countries it can take months before you manage to gather that amount. You come here to find out that no one helps you at the airport, the accommodations are not even close to what they promised you. The salary they promised is only for those who worked for more than 1 year and its brut (gross) not net salary.
    No one helps you with the driving issues, they expect you to instantly change from left hand drive to right hand drive as if it’s that easy(they “train” you for half an hour,what a joke), and if you want you can take driving lessons, obviously the company will not pay for anything, it’s from your own pocket.

    Never in my life have I felt so humiliated, so undesired, I could barely keep it together for the short time I accepted the job as a carer.
    How are you supposed to care for others when no one cares about you?

Comments are closed.