Lancashire's sleep-in care workers seek pay they say they are owed
A row has broken out over how much Lancashire care workers providing overnight support to vulnerable people in their own homes are being paid.
The union UNISON claims that Alternative Futures Group (AFG) – which provides so-called “sleep-in” staff under a contract with Lancashire County Council – is short-changing its workers by failing to pass on the amount that the authority expects them to receive.
However, AFG says that the rate has been agreed with County Hall – and rejects a claim by the union that it is ‘pocketing’ public money.
The issue sparked a protest by a group of care workers outside a Lancashire County Council meeting in Preston earlier this month.
It is the latest local twist in a long-running national saga about wages for sleep-in workers, who are permitted to go to bed unless and until their services are required during their night shifts.
Back in 2018, a Court of Appeal judge concluded that such staff were “available for work rather than actually working” – and so were not entitled to the minimum wage. The ruling overturned a previous judgement that found they should receive a basic hourly rate whether they were awake or not.
The change saw Lancashire County Council revert to paying care contractors on the basis that they would give a flat fee to their workers. The authority’s cabinet resolved in 2019 that it would pay £61.18 per shift “based on the assumption that staff are paid £45”.
AFG is currently paying £43.68 for sleep-in shifts. While UNISON says that the difference “may sound insignificant”, it claims that it adds up to £29,000 per year that should be handed over to care workers.
The union’s regional organiser, Dan Smith, said it was “bad enough that thousands of Lancashire care workers are already paid far less than the national minimum wage per hour for 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”.
“This is yet another example of a broken social care system…where it is simply accepted that care organisations will pocket public money intended for care workers or service users,” said Mr, Smith, who called on Lancashire County Council to take action, stating that AFG provides the authority with more sleep-in shifts than any other organisation.
One AFG worker in Lancashire, who did not wish to be named, said after completing a recent sleep-in shift: “During the night I had to be up three times [and] 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 [today], but I’m really tired. That’s a regular occurrence.”
However, AFG said that the £43.68 payment was the “contractually agreed rate with Lancashire [and] on this basis, we consider that UNISON are mistaken in the belief that the rate agreed is £45”.
A spokesperson added: “AFG are a not-for-profit charity and any suggestion that we are ‘pocketing’ public money is absurd.
“In relation to payment for sleep-in shifts, a Supreme Court ruling on 19th March, 2021, handed down a judgment…[which] found that it is only time spent awake and working during a sleep-in that counts as working time for national minimum wage purposes.
“We have written to the government calling on them to do a thorough and meaningful review of the social care workforce and put more money into the system so that we can pay our hardworking colleagues better. It is disappointing that there is still no plan for social care reform.”
Lancashire County Council commissions sleep-in services for people who might occasionally require care and support during the night. Anybody needing help regularly overnight has it provided by workers who are obliged to stay awake throughout their shift.
A spokesperson for the authority said of the AFG wage row: “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.”
County Hall’s Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali said that dedicated care workers had gone “above and beyond during the pandemic”.
“It is a disgrace that they do not get the 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 flouting minimum standards,” County Cllr Ali added.