Call for pay cut for Lancashire's 'sleep-in' carers to be reversed

A wage cut for care workers in Lancashire who sleep overnight at the homes of vulnerable adults should be postponed for as long as the coronavirus crisis lasts, according to the Labour opposition group on Lancashire County Council.

The party is calling for the reduction in the so-called ‘sleep-in rate’ to be reversed.

The authority last year responded to a Court of Appeal ruling involving the charity sector which concluded that carers who can go to bed during their shift are “available for work rather than actually working” – and so are not entitled to the national minimum wage for the period during which they are asleep.

Cabinet members voted to move to a flat rate payment system for the independent providers who deliver sleep-in services in Lancashire – but with a stipulation that the companies must pass on a minimum proportion of the fee to their staff.

Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver says the authority has acted in response to legal judgements about the rate paid to sleep-in carers

The changes were phased in over two stages, completed this month, meaning that workers now receive at least £45 for a sleep-in shift. However, the average rate under the previous arrangements was £67.

Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali says he wants County Hall to cover the cost of a return to hourly payments while the Covid-19 outbreak continues.

“These are our frontline heroes and they’re putting their lives on the line every night – the least they deserve is a bit more financial security at this time.

“We have a duty to look after these people – if they walk away from their jobs, frightened for their families, then we will be in real difficulty. We have got to reward, respect and protect them – because if we don’t, then [the nationwide show of support for carers] is all just empty words,” County Cllr Ali said.

But Conservative council leader Geoff Driver said that the new policy long predates the current pandemic.

“Throughout this process, we have followed the court judgements – and, unlike most local authorities, we gave [the changes] a year to bed in.

“We have also said that if any care provider is struggling to meet their costs during this crisis [including because of pay pressures], we would rather meet those on an emergency basis instead of reverting to the previous position,” County Cllr Driver added.

The authority has resolved to make crisis payments to care companies facing financial challenges caused by coronavirus.

But a sleep-in care worker who approached the Labour party – but did not want to be named – said it seemed that she and her colleagues were not being “appreciated for the fantastic work we do”.

“We have a fear as support workers that we may take this virus home to our loved ones – in my case, my beautiful four-year-old son. But it doesn’t stop us going to work and putting a smile on our face and being there for the adults we support as they need us,” she added.

A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said: “These payments are given to staff who are asleep, but may be woken to provide occasional support to people overnight. If they are woken up and have to perform duties, they get paid for that in addition to the flat-rate sleeping payment.

“We worked with providers to introduce a flat rate payment last year and, to give them time to adjust to the change, agreed to its phased introduction until April this year. This was all agreed well before the current coronavirus crisis following a successful appeal by national charity Mencap, but we would urge any care provider to contact us if it will cause them financial difficulties as we have promised to do all we can to support them during this emergency.”

Legal proceedings in the Mencap case are ongoing, with a final Supreme Court judgement expected shortly.