Whenever we make mistakes, it is important that we take responsibility and set them right. When Government makes mistakes, it is essential that they do the same. This is particularly the case when the mistakes made by Government impact on vulnerable people or on an essential but fragile sector. I doubt anyone finds that a contentious thing to say - it's not hyper partisan or particularly controversial. And yet Government doesn't seem to agree.
The Government has changed its guidance on when workers should be eligible for the minimum wage. This means that workers undertaking 'sleep in' shifts in the care sector are eligible for the hourly minimum wage even on nights when they were not awake and having to work. In the past, charities like mine had paid a flat nightly fee - to workers sleeping over to provide emergency care and security for people we support. If they were needed in the night - to help someone with their personal care or assist in any way - support workers would start the clock and be paid an additional minimum wage rate (on top of their flat fee) for each hour actively worked. Around a quarter of a million people in the U.K. need this sort of regular overnight support, largely provided by charities or specialist companies.
When the guidance changed, our sector was put under huge pressure, local councils commission the services that we provide but they were not given any more money to deal with Government changing the rules. Most providers have committed to paying their staff the extra money and are doing so now - but have yet to fully secure the additional cost from Councils who are under financial pressures of their own.
But as if that wasn't bad enough, Government have made another terrible mistake - one that may end up costing this country what's left of its care sector. As well as having to pay more, now, we are being told that we must back date payments for the last six years to workers carrying out sleep in duties. Despite the Government's then guidance stating that such payments were not required. We followed the rules. We paid colleagues according to Government advice. But now they've changed their minds and we are left with a multi-million pound bill created by a Government error.
Workers in the social care sector do a vital job, a brilliant job in most cases, but have been for so long unrecognised for the value of their work. We want to be able to pay our colleagues a fair wage for the job that they do, but we can't do that on our own - we need Government to recognise the true cost of providing good care and support for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The cost of paying out the back pay alone will be £400 million to the sector. £400 million that care charities like mine simply do not have. We have acted throughout with good faith, following the letter of the law and trying to be fair to all in incredibly frugal times. We have been pressing Government for over a year now to meet its responsibilities and fund the sector so that we can pay our staff fairly. This week yet another deadline passed without a final decision. The sword of Damocles hangs over our sector's head.
Everyone makes mistakes. Even Government. But we should all try to take responsibility when things go wrong, when our errors impact other people and Government is no exception. This mistake - if it goes uncorrected and charities like mine are left footing the bill - could have a terrible impact on the lives of a quarter of a million people and devastate an entire, vital sector. We're not asking Government for a hand-out here, merely that they take responsibility for their actions before it is too late.
If you believe that Government needs to take responsibility for this mess of its own making then please sign our petition here and follow our campaign at #StopSleepInCrisis. Let's tell Government that it's never ok to let vulnerable people carry the can for your mistakes.