Preston care worker in call for living wage for the people who look after some of Lancashire's most vulnerable

There are calls for a care home firm operating in Lancashire to pay its staff the so-called “real living wage”.

By Paul Faulkner
Thursday, 14th July 2022, 2:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th July 2022, 5:22 pm

Four Seasons Health Care runs facilities in Preston, Chorley and Blackburn - and also provides placements funded by Lancashire County Council.

A delegation from the community organising group Citizens UK - along with care workers from across the North West and some of the people they support - descended on the company's headquarters in the Cheshire town of Wilmslow on Wednesday lunchtime.

It was part of a nationwide day of action designed to persuade some of the country’s biggest care operators to commit to paying carers a minimum of £9.90 per hour - the amount which the Living Wage Foundation says is currently required in order for people to meet their basic everyday needs.

Care workers and Citizens UK leaders at Four Seasons Health Care headquarters in Cheshire

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The current national living wage - the minimum amount that workers can legally be given - stands at £9.50 per hour for the over-23s, £9.18 for those aged 21-22 and £6.83 for 18-20-year-olds.

Preston care worker Jessie - who did not want to give her full name and does not herself work for Four Seasons - says that the contrast between the service provided by people in jobs like hers and the treatment they get in return could not be more stark.

“I spend my days caring for people and ensuring that they live a life with dignity and respect, [so] it’s simply not right that my colleagues and I are not afforded the same - we often have to visit foodbanks and are not able to pay our bills.

“I’ve been a care worker for 27 years - since I was 16 - and I love my job, but working long hours, with such low pay, can place strain on relationships with family and friends.

“When I found myself in a single parent household and co-parenting my children with their dad, the effect of low pay and long days caused new stresses.

“The irregularity of my long shifts [meant that] I had to use breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and also rely on family and friends to help with childcare, meal times and school runs.

“I often had to borrow money from family to cover the cost of things like school trips. It was difficult to justify paying for these when I struggled to pay the rent or the bills and, at times, got into arrears.

“There was nothing spare – either time or money – for us to be able to spend quality time as a family,” Jessie added.

The action taken at Four Seasons headquarters included the presentation to the company of a four seasons pizza with one slice missing - a reflection of what the organisers say is the gap left in care workers’ lives as a result of the lack of a living wage.

Citizens UK’s Lancashire organiser Davinia Jackson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service said that the applause given to care workers at the height of the pandemic, as part of the recognition of NHS staff, was “not good enough for them”..

“They need to be shown what their true value is and have that reflected in their profession.

“It’s heartbreaking [that] people in the 21st century are struggling to make ends meet. We have got higher rates of in-work poverty than ever - and it's only going to get worse in the coming months.

“From my experience, a lot of [domiciliary] care workers don't even get fuel costs [for travelling between people’s homes]. - they have the cost of that on top of low pay,” Davinia added.

Responding to the issues raised about its pay levels, a spokesperson for Four Seasons Health Care said that the firm understood “the financial pressures caused by the rising cost of living”.

They added: “We constantly keep our pay levels under review and are currently implementing a large number of site-specific, off-cycle pay increases for frontline colleagues in addition to our annual pay award.

“We also have a recognition agreement with three national trade unions and regularly consult with them on a range of matters, including pay.

“We’ve previously announced that the business has entered a sale process. Until that process is complete, regretfully we are unable to make further commitments relating to salary.”

Lancashire County Council - which has paid the real living wage to its own employees since 2014 - last year invited the companies that it uses to provide care in people’s homes to pitch to the authority for more money as part of a review of their existing contracts.

The unusual move was made in an attempt to help care operators to pay their staff more and discourage them from leaving the under-pressure sector.

Commenting on the Citizens UK call for a real living wage for care workers on all settings, County Hall’s cabinet member for adult social care, Graham Gooch, said: "Each year, we increase the fees we pay care providers to ensure they can cover staff wages, employee pensions and other costs.

"In the next few months, we are running a fair cost of care exercise with all our providers and as part of this process, we will consult these organisations and work closely with them to get an in-depth knowledge of the challenges they currently face.

"This will help us to set fees that fit in with the county council's budget and allow them to cover their increasing costs," County Cllr Gooch added.

The authority also recently created a "market shaping group" to consider the issues facing the sector and mould services to meet people's changing care needs.

Over 250 care providers have become accredited real living wage employers in the last two years, according to Citizens UK.