Care workers have told UNISON that they are being forced to take unpaid leave if they have to self-isolate or shield during the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNISON has called on the government to take action on care worker COVID-19 pay deductions in order to prevent further hardship and control the spread of the virus.
The trade union has revealed that staff working in the care sector are being forced to take unpaid leave or survive on minimal statutory sick pay (SSP) if they have the virus or need to self-isolate or shield.
UNISON has warned that this is leaving a “significant number” of care workers with no choice but to carry on working against the current health guidance as they cannot afford to take time off, increasing the risk of spreading the virus at work and to their family.
The union says that ministers must make sure that care workers who are required to take time off or reduce their hours are not penalised financially for simply following the public health guidance.
UNISON has previously written to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, calling on the government to make sure that financial aid intended to help care staff actually reaches them and is not kept by employers to cover costs.
However, the response from care minister Helen Whately made clear that councils would have to absorb the cost of monitoring and enforcing the correct distribution of the funding. UNISON believes the costs of doing this mean it is unlikely that local authorities will have adequate resources available to pursue employers who are failing to pass on the funding to their workers.
The union’s research has found that there is currently a huge disparity between pay arrangements for care workers who take time off work while ill, self-isolating or shielding.
Some care workers have reported being paid just 10% of their usual salary, others receive sick pay for a week and then have to rely on SSP, while some are being forced to take the time off as holiday and use up their annual entitlement as well as taking the time off as unpaid leave.
UNISON has found that of those care workers who have needed to shield – either to protect themselves or their family members – only 31% have been receiving full pay. More than one in five (22%) have only received SSP, while 9% have been told to carry on working and 8% told they would receive no pay whatsoever.
The research showed that one in 10 care workers said they knew of colleagues who had no choice but to continue working despite having COVID-19 symptoms.
Care workers have also told UNISON that their income is dropping in other ways, with staff saying their shifts are being reduced as the number of residents has fallen. Those working in the community have also reported they have fewer people to look after now as many clients are in isolation or shielding, which is affecting their income.
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said:
It’s a confusing picture for care workers who are being treated very differently depending on where they work.
But the bottom line is thousands are facing heartbreaking choices about whether to stay off work or pay the bills.
Already on incredibly low pay and in precarious work, they feel compelled to carry on simply to make ends meet and keep their jobs.’
Ministers have to make sure care staff are not out of pocket so we can halt the spread of the virus for the sake of carers and the vulnerable people they look after.
Responding to Unison’s research, a Government spokesperson said:
We recognise the vital support and hard work of our social care workforce during these challenging times and nobody should be forced to take unpaid leave.
We have given £3.2bn to councils to help them meet financial pressures, including the costs of social care, and an additional £600m through the Infection Control Fund to help maintain the normal wages of staff who may need to self-isolate.
Employers have also been able to furlough care workers who cannot work for a long period of time if they are in a high-risk group or shielding, meaning they continue to receive 80% of their normal income.