Paul Blomfield MP: We need a tougher regime to enforce the minimum wage
Labour MP for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, speaks with PoliticsHome ahead of his debate on Wednesday into non-compliance with the minimum wage.
In July 2014 the Public Accounts Select Committee published a report into adult social care in England, in which the committee stated: “We are astonished that up to 220,000 care workers earn less than minimum wage and seemingly little has been done to rectify this.”
Today, it is Paul Blomfield Labour MP for Sheffield Central who is astonished. Following the report, which focuses on the illegal non-payment of travel time for carers, Andrew Smith MP led a Westminster Hall debate on the topic in 2014, and together with Blomfield, wrote to ministers on the enforcement of the minimum wage in the care sector and beyond. Almost two years later, Blomfield claims, little has changed.
“It is essentially the same issue,” said Blomfield. “Back then there was widespread non-compliance, and we were trying to focus on that non-compliance and to get the government and HMRC to commit to more proactive enforcement, through spot checks and double measures to identify where things were going wrong.”
“That issue remains the same,” he said.
While Blomfield is concerned about non-compliance with employment law more broadly, he is focusing Wednesday’s backbench debate on the non-payment of travel time for carers, ‘because it’s so clear.’
“For domiciliary care workers, calls tend to be a standard 15 minutes, they take a lot of calls each day and therefore spend a lot of time travelling between them. Effectively they might work an eight hour day and only get paid for four. So they’re probably the most obviously affected by non-compliance with the law in this area.”
“It’s completely illegal,” he added. “That was administrate knowledge back in the debate we had in 2014.”
According to Blomfield, part of the problem rests with councils, as most domiciliary care is carried out by private care agencies under contract from local authorities.
“There are issues I’ll be raising about more effective commissioning, so that councils make it a contractual condition for home care providers to pay for travel time, so that it’s absolutely upfront as part of their commissioning.”
The main measure that Blomfield will be pushing for is a requirement for employers to give every worker a clear statement of hours and pay, with the view that transparency will drive compliance amongst employers and foster a change of culture. This would also give employees the opportunity to check against the hours they have worked, and to whistleblow those that don’t comply.
However, he points yet another finger at HMRC in this regard. Following cuts to the watchdog, HMRC is often without the resources to thoroughly investigate complaints of non-compliance, or to undertake the research necessary to identify widespread failings and ultimately force firms to repay every other worker.
“There’s not a lot that encourages you to comply with the law because even if you’re caught out, you will simply be required to make good in relation to the person who has whistle blown, and to give a commitment to do the right thing it the future,” he said.
“So it’s a very light-touch regime. There’s probably very few other areas of the law where they say: ‘Well you don’t have to worry about this too much, and if you get caught we’ll tell you not to do it again.’
“We need a tougher regime, we need spot checks, and we need greater transparency in the information that employers provide their staff.”
Without such measures, Blomfield impressed that it is not only carers who are being short changed, but as a consequence, their clients.
“One of the worries of this, which the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence points out, is that not being paid for travel time puts pressure on workers to cut down their care time - so called ‘call clipping’ - because they’re desperate to get between appointments. So it impacts both on the workers who are abused and underpaid, but also on the quality of the care they’re able to provide to their clients.
“It is an enormous scandal. There are few people who we are more concerned for than our elderly and infirm relatives, children and people with disabilities. And yet we are prepared as a society to see this appalling cost cutting and illegality in relation to those who care for them.”