The Supreme Court’s decision that social care staff are not entitled to the national minimum wage for sleep-in shifts will come as a “huge blow” to care workers across the country, but it increases pressure on the government to bring forward reform of the “crisis-ridden” sector, Unison has said.
The union, which backed the case taken on behalf of care worker Clare Tomlinson-Blake against her now former employer Mencap, said it will now push for a change in the law so sleep-in shifts count as working time.
It is also urging employers and local councils commissioning care not to cut existing pay rates for already low-paid staff.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “No one is a winner from today’s judgment. Everyone loses until the government intervenes to mend a broken system that relies on paying skilled staff a pittance.
“This dire situation was ignored by the government for years before Covid, and again in the recent Budget.
“Today’s judgment shows ministers can’t disregard the desperate need for major reform a moment longer. That includes a well-resourced national care service that ensures staff are paid fairly to help resolve soaring job vacancies.
“The longer the delay, the greater the betrayal of the most vulnerable in society and the dedicated workers who look after them.”
Speaking after the judgment, Clare Tomlinson-Blake said: “This case was never about the money. It was about the principle of treating staff fairly.
”Sleep-in shifts aren’t about just being on call – it’s work. Staff are constantly on guard to protect the most vulnerable in society. The sound of a cough in the night could mean someone’s in danger.
“It was nice to be clapped by the nation, but that was only temporary. The care workforce should be valued permanently. Respect for staff shows that the people we care for matter too.”
Edel Harris, chief executive of the Royal Mencap Society, said: “Support workers within Mencap and across the sector do an exceptional job. They are dedicated in their care for people with a learning disability and should be paid more. They are care workers on the coronavirus front line and deserve better recognition in all forms. The Supreme Court in its judgment rightly recognises this. But we understand that many hard-working care workers will be disappointed by its ruling.
“Mencap contested this case because of the devastating unfunded back pay liabilities facing providers across the sector. This was estimated at £400 million. Sleep-ins are a statutory care service which should be funded by Local Authorities, and ultimately Government. It is no exaggeration to say that if the ruling had been different, it would have severely impacted on a sector which is already underfunded and stretched to breaking point. Some providers would have gone bust and, ultimately, the people who rely on care would have suffered.”
Mencap believes the legislation covering sleep-in payments is “out of date and unfair” and has called on the government to reform it.
Harris added: “More widely, they should 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.
“Today’s decision means that we can continue our important work which includes fighting for the rights of people with a learning disability, giving information and advice and promoting inclusion, as well as supporting people to live brilliant lives.
“Until there is a more sustainable solution from Government, we plan to continue to pay top ups for sleep-ins, as we have done since 2017, and will urge Local Authorities to continue to cover this in their contracts.”