Accusations of pay exploitation in Essex

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A row has erupted at Essex County Council over the wages for care workers - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Organisations that do not pay the national living wage “are an instrument of exploitation”, claims a councillor who is calling for care workers to be “paid properly”.

John Spence, cabinet member for adult social care, said that he would not sign UNISON’s ethical care charter, at a meeting of the People and Families Policy Scrutiny Committee last Thursday (July 15).

The charter sets out a series of commitments to protect the rights of home care workers.

The meeting heard that Essex County Council (ECC) is working to ensure workers in jobs commissioned by the local authority are paid the national living wage.

Essex County Councillor John Spence

Essex County Councillor John Spence - Credit: PAUL STARR Photographer

Cllr Spence said: “What I have said at the citizens assembly and I will say again, it is in our interests that all people who work for ECC in the care sector and those who work for those we commission across the sector are properly treated.

“And we work very hard to ensure they are all paid the minimum wage.

“And I have publicly stated as an aspiration with all the budgetary constraints that we would like to move them to the real living wage over a period of time.

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“This has many financial implications and far more complexities than the direct cost of just doing it because of the impact it has on the pay scales of other places.

"But it is an aspiration – it is in our interests that residents are themselves well treated.”

Essex County Councillor Aidan McGurran

Essex County Councillor Aidan McGurran - Credit: Essex County Council

Labour councillor Aidan McGurran said: “If you cannot pay the national living wage you are an instrument of exploitation.”

He added: “I find it extremely disappointing that you won’t sign up to the charter which is utterly reasonable and utterly deliverable.

“I also think that it says something about the sector where it is an aspiration to pay the national living wage.

“My view is that you are not a business if you cannot pay the national living wage, you are an instrument of exploitation.

“I think it is not enough for it to be an aspiration to pay them properly. It is essential.”

Research from the Living Wage Foundation suggests that 71 percent of care workers in Essex – more than 16,000 people – are paid less than £9.50 per hour.

One care worker looking for council support is Richard Porter from Harlow.

He said: “My main job as a carer is making sure residents’ personal care is taken care of washing, feeding, dressing and hydration, as well as their mental health needs. I also work with highly advanced dementia residents.

“To me a rise to the real living wage would mean not having to worry about unexpected bills and being able to afford to eat properly myself.

"We are doing a professional job of care on basic minimum pay which doesn’t seem right.”

UNISON Eastern social care lead Caroline Hennessy previously called on the council to support care workers more.

She said: “Care workers were virtually abandoned at the beginning of the pandemic, left without enough PPE and dealing with years of underinvestment and under pay.

“But they battled on regardless, doing everything they could to look after Essex’s most vulnerable residents while often fearing for their own lives and safety.

“Providing these key workers with a wage they can actually afford to live on is the least we can do.”

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