Scotland’s home care service is at breaking point, says report from UNISON Scotland

The report – We care, do you? – is the latest in UNISON Scotland’s damage series which looks at the impact of austerity cuts on the country’s public services and the people who deliver them.

The survey of home carers revealed:

• 9 in 10 (88%) said they were limited to specific times for client visits, with many reporting this was too short a period to properly cater to a client’s needs.

• Four in five said they believe the service has been affected by budget cuts or privatisation with carers saying the emphasis was now on “quantity rather than quality”.

• Over a quarter (26%) said they were not paid for their travelling time.

• Two thirds (66.5%) said they did not have anywhere to go between visits to have a meal, hot drink or toilet break.

• Nearly half (43%) said they worked longer than their contracted hours.

Carers paint a picture of not having enough time to properly care for the vulnerable people who rely on them. The assertion from councils that 15 minute care visits are only for the most minimal needs was roundly contradicted by carers, with some stating that scheduling did not account for travel time between visits.

Many carers are also not being paid for the time they spend travelling between clients, or reimbursed for the costs in doing so. Twenty-five councils said they pay travelling expenses, but four were only for their own staff; three did not pay at all and one council said it varied. Similarly, 25 councils (not necessarily the same ones) paid for travelling time but, again, four were only for their own staff, while four said it differed depending on the provider. And although most of the social care workforce is employed on permanent contracts, many are on zero-hours (8% of respondents) or nominal hours contracts.

With the majority of care being carried out by private contractors, it leaves local authorities with little control over how home care functions are delivered. 24 out of 31 councils said they used a mixture of in-house and contracted-out staff. The percentages of the services contracted-out varied from 10% (West Dunbartonshire) to 91% (West Lothian). The number of contractors used varied widely too from three in East Renfrewshire to 38 in West Lothian.

While almost all councils say they pay the Scottish Living Wage to their own staff, not many believed their contractors do so. The recent Procurement Act allows payment of the living wage to be a factor in the issuing of contracts, but the councils who responded to our question said they did not use the procurement guidelines.

UNISON Scotland is campaigning for local authorities to sign up to its Ethical Care Charter for home care services, which sets minimum standards to protect the dignity and quality of life for people who need home care. It commits councils to buying home care only from providers who give workers enough time, training and a living wage, so they can provide a better quality care for thousands of service users who rely on it.

Stephen Smellie, UNISON Scotland’s depute convener, said: “This report highlights the shocking truths of a dedicated, caring workforce who are being stretched to the limit, often resulting in their own stress and ill-health.

“They juggle with travelling time and running late, to ensure their tasks are completed as best as they can, some often go back in their own time to make sure their clients’ needs are met.

“The most vulnerable people in our society rely on the services our home carers provide. They deserve better, much better – and so do care workers. This should include a decent, and reliable, wage for the work they do, with proper facilities and a workload which allows them to do their job properly. They care for us, it is only right that we in turn care for them.”

Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “As austerity bites, it seems care in the home is being perceived as the ‘cheap option’ compared to the cost of care homes or hospitals.

“The Scottish Government’s commitment to ensure the Scottish Living Wage is paid this October is a welcome step forward. In addition to fair pay, it is vital that Scotland’s councils sign up to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter which sets minimum standards for home care. It is particularly disappointing that the opportunities provided by the Procurement Act have not as yet been taken up by local authorities.”


Further information:

• UNISON Scotland’s report – We care, do you? – is based on a freedom of information request to all local authorities in Scotland, and on a survey of home carers across the country. The full report pdf can be found here.

• Further information on UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter can be found in our latest briefing here
and you can view the Ethical Care Charter online here Ethical Care Charter PDF.pdf


• What the carers said:
– “Carers do this job because they love the job and people they care for but getting more difficult due to all the cut backs and low morale.”
– “Sometimes I have 4 clients with all 15min scheduled time in the space of 1 hour with no travel time to each one.”
– “Less care been given seems to be more about quantity that quality”
– “Have always done possible 20 odd hours overtime but recently I have been told I can’t do anymore than 48 which has had an effect on tax credits they set a precedence in given me these extra shift now I fear I will not maintain my bills possibly even food bank stage.”
– “It’s a real caring service now its all about the clock ticking unfair on elderly who don’t have family.”

• For more information please contact: Dave Watson, head of policy and public affairs, on 07958 122 409 or Trisha Hamilton, communications officer, 0141 342 2877