Some UK care workers are having to take holiday when they are off sick with Covid or see already low wages fall to £96 per week, raising fears they may not self-isolate.
Staff on the minimum wage claim to have been offered only statutory sick pay when ill with Covid or self-isolating. This contravenes government policy that they should be paid in full to limit infection spread.
One care worker involved in an ongoing outbreak at a nursing home involving several fatalities told the Guardian the employer does not provide sick pay, so the worker and other infected colleagues had to take holiday to prevent their earnings falling. One colleague took holiday pay to maintain earnings while very ill with Covid in intensive care, the care worker said.
The trade union Unison, which represents care workers, said it had been contacted by multiple staff complaining about the practice, which appears to affect a minority of care workers, with many employers offering full pay for isolation or sickness.
“Almost a year into the pandemic, many care workers are having to survive on less than £100 a week should they fall ill or need to isolate,” said Gavin Edwards, a senior national officer at Unison. “Low-paid staff shouldn’t be losing money they can ill afford when they’re poorly or stopping home to avoid spreading the virus. The system isn’t working. Every care worker who has to be off work during the pandemic must be paid their wages in full.”
One affected care worker, who requested anonymity, said: “You have a lot of women whose partners have lost their jobs so they really can’t afford not to come in. There are people who don’t want to work because they are scared, but they can’t afford not to.”
The Department of Health and Social Care established a £1.1bn infection control fund last year partly to fund full pay for self-isolating and sick care workers. It said the fund was to ensure “staff who are isolating in line with government guidance receive their normal wages and do not lose income while doing so”.
“Self-isolation is vital to stopping the spread of the virus,” said a DHSC spokesperson. “Our hardworking care workers should not lose income if they are required to self-isolate. We expect adult social care providers to pay full wages to care workers who need to stay at home to self-isolate and we have made £1.1bn available through the infection control fund to support this.”
Bespoke Health and Social Care, a home healthcare operator where workers receive £95.85 statutory sick pay, said service commissioners only provided enough funding to pay one worker for an individual’s care package.
“We simply cannot afford to pay the staff member who was off sick and the staff member covering,” said Chris Walsh, its chief operating officer.
She said the company had recently been alerted that it may be able to claim from the infection fund and that if successful it would reimburse affected workers.
The issue emerged amid continuing outbreaks in care homes and levels of reported Covid deaths not seen since last May. At Mossview care home in Lochgelly, Fife, 10 residents have died in an outbreak in which 25 residents and 43 staff have tested positive, said NHS Fife officials.
“Our thoughts are with their loved ones at this difficult time,” they said in a statement.
Seven people have died with Covid at Falcon House care home in Hertfordshire, where the majority of residents became infected in another outbreak starting in late December.
Covid deaths in care homes in England and Wales surged to their highest level since last May with 1,719 residents dying from the virus in the week to 15 January – more than doubling the death toll since Christmas. The figures bring to more than 26,000 the UK death toll from Covid in care homes when data from deaths registered in Scotland and occurring in Northern Ireland covering the same period is included.
— to www.theguardian.com