Stop the excuses: give sleepover staff equal pay

Care staff

​Gail McLean is angry with Enable Scotland for not paying sleepover care staff the Living Wage

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13th September 2017 by TFN Guest 3 Comments

There was a time when carers worked for pennies. Because we cared for people and because we wanted to contribute to society, for years we got paid well below what others got paid. We just accepted it. And we rarely complained.

Then in the 1980s when heightened regulation increased our workload, the job began to change. We started to get timed for home visits and we had to fill in lots of paperwork. Health and safety told us we had to do things a certain way while our bosses told us we had to adapt to these changes or lose our jobs.

Adapt we did. And before long we realised our workloads were becoming unmanageable. Yet despite all these changes, our pay never increased. Time and again we were being told to do things differently, quicker and better.

Soon caring for very vulnerable people became merely a process for us carers. The regulation, the poor pay and the systematic eroding of our conditions of employment took its toll. And it meant we couldn’t give the care we wanted to and our clients suffered.

When I read Theresa Shearer’s blog attempting to justify why sleepover staff don’t get paid the Living Wage, I felt outraged. I felt outrage not just for me but my fellow professionals who have for decades campaigned tirelessly to get a decent wage for the often back-breaking, heart-rendering work we do. 

Theresa tells us she can’t afford to pay the Living Wage for sleepover staff. It would cost the organisations over £1 million a year.  Although I can see where the problem lies, don’t expect me to empathise or understand.

Back in the 70s when I first started out as a carer I took jobs for charities that paid less than casual cleaning staff – even less than refuse collectors who were the lowest paid of their day. As an unqualified inexperienced carer, I thought that was what I was worth for helping to wash and cloth terminally ill patients, spoon feed the elderly and clean people’s toilets. 

I had an entire career where I was underpaid by third sector care organisations, local authorities and the private sector. The excuses were plentiful but mostly centring around the familiar refrain: “If we paid you more, we’d have to pay you off.”

The introduction of the Living Wage heralded huge hope for underpaid, overworked care staff of whom I am one. It meant finally we would actually get paid a rate we were worth. Yet Enable decides to withhold this right – and it is a right – from those dedicated sleepover staff who are only paid, at best, the minimum wage. 

Although I can see where the problem lies, don’t expect me to empathise or understand

Theresa should be ashamed to even attempt to defend this line. However the most distasteful aspect is that Theresa Shearer reckons she can assuage her underpaid staff merely by warm words.

If, as she claims, the most valuable assets in her organisation are its staff then she would invest in them as a priority and not withhold their right to equal pay.    

So, please, Theresa don’t dictate and ask us to understand why you won’t pay your loyal, dedicated, hard-working care staff what they are due.

We’ve been fobbed off with excuses for our entire careers by highly-paid chief executives for far too long to swallow that tired old chestnut.   

Gail McLean is a professional carer and former shop steward

13th September 2017 by Deborah Clarke

The blog is factually incorrect. Enable Scotland is the only charity fighting for the SLW to be paid to staff who do sleepers. The rest of the sector are refusing and trying to block this.

16th September 2017 by Deborah Clarke

Gail -you are incorrect. The Scottish government introduced the SLW in October 2016. Enable Scotland has a recognition agreement with UNISON and was SLW long before everyone else was forced to comply. Enable Scotland is the the only charity fighting hard to get the SLW extended to cover overnight support. No one else is doing this.

18th September 2017 by Name Witheld

I work for enable as a carer and have done for years but have never met Theresa Shearer or had the opportunity to. I have read her press though and seen what the managers are telt to think and apparently she's amazing.