A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that zero-hours contracts have been oversimplified and unfairly demonised and are good business practice as they provide a route into employment and offer flexibility for staff. Interestingly, the report also showed that zero-hour workers are as happy and content with their job as the average UK employee, regardless of contract type. In addition, they were also more satisfied with their work-life balance.
The combination of cuts to social care budgets and a growing demand for services in health and social care further substantiates what I have thought for some time; zero-hour contracts are the key to solving two crises the UK - high unemployment levels and adult social care.
It is evident that adult care is at breaking point. Estimates show that approximately 160,000 elderly people could be left without the support they need in the coming years in England alone. Despite this, there are currently approximately 1.45 million people unemployed in the UK. In addition, 60 per cent of English councils use 15-minute visits to provide care for the elderly and disabled, which has been branded 'disgraceful', but in the tough economic climate the answer has not been clear cut.
Meanwhile, according to recent ONS data, unemployment in the UK stands at 2.47 million. The Jobseekers' Allowance currently costs taxpayers £4.91 billion a year, some of which could be used to support social care if one in fifteen unemployed people were to start an occupation in care. Ultimately, this could wipe out the estimated £1 billion shortfall in care funding that is expected by 2015.
Where zero-hours contracts are used for the right reasons and when people are managed in the correct way, these contracts of employment in the UK allow flexibility that benefits both the modern business and modern working lives. As a result if service users go into hospital, pass away, or funding is reduced, staff can be managed effectively and efficiently, meaning time can be allocated accordingly.
Access Group provides software to domiciliary care providers and nearly all of our clients operate zero hour contracts. In our experience, the industry simply would not be able to operate or survive without them. To provide better care these contracts need to be adopted even more widely in order to cut costs fairly whilst increasing the care provision.
With the Government already considering asking welfare claimants to cook meals for the elderly, pick up litter or clean up graffiti, the prospect of solving the adult social care time bomb could already be on the cards.
The news comes at a time when 10 million people in the UK are over 65 years old and this is set to increase by 5½ million in 20 years. There are currently three million people aged more than 80 years old and this is projected to almost double by 2030, a figure which would be completely unmanageable if a solution is not found soon. Meanwhile, those over 100 have increased five-fold over 30 years, according to the ONS. In other words, the population is aging at a time when social care funding is being squeezed and the welfare bill is rising.
All these people face a potential bill of £72,000 each from 2016 to pay for their care following Government plans to force those with the assets to pay for their care.
We must address the impending care crisis, which many people believe cannot be solved through efficiency savings alone. We are working hard to find ways to cut costs and improve services through the use of cutting edge technology in order to manage staff effectively and allow care providers to spot areas that need improvement and plan for the future. But technology is just one part of the solution and it is evident that bigger steps need to be taken.
If these trends continue the country will face serious social and economic problems. Potential solutions must be debated, whether part of a welfare to work scheme or a different approach. What is imperative though is that people start talking about the challenges and how we overcome them. And I strongly believe zero-hour contracts must be at the forefront of that debate.