The reality of zero hours contracts

Reposted from TUC website

#DecentJobsWeek: I love being a home care worker, but I hate the insecurity

17 Dec 2014, by in Working Life

Decent Jobs WeekOh joy! Today I received a letter from HMRC stating I have been overpaid tax credits in relation to my childcare costs. I will have to pay back any money owed and may face a penalty for failure to inform them of a change in my circumstances. I would never knowingly claim money fraudulently, and I’m really not sure how I will ever pay back the money they are asking for.

This is the reality of zero-hours contracts.

I agreed a contract for childcare which included costs that were passed to HMRC tax credits department. But my hours changed, as they do every week. One week I may have 60 hours work and childcare may be near £300, others my hours may drop to 13, and my need for childcare dissipates. Do I pay for childcare I can’t afford, just to keep the HMRC wolf from the door? Or do I live in hope that things improve next week?

The eternal optimist, I fell for the latter.

I’m a home care worker and I have been for most of my working life. I really don’t ever think about doing anything else. I love my job, I love the variety, I love the people I am lucky enough to work with. I don’t like the insecurity, I don’t like the debts, I don’t like the nights I lie awake wondering when will I ever be financially secure?

I am lucky to have found a job that I enjoy. The thought of working somewhere that doesn’t make me happy keeps me here battling at the bottom of the pile, wanting someone to change and improve things, not only for me but the hundreds of thousands of care workers across this country: care workers who are working with people with increasingly complex needs, care workers in the same or often worse situations than mine.

When I started out I worked for the local authority, I had a guaranteed contract and a very good rate of pay. Yet as private equity firms have taken control of the sector, zero-hours contracts have become increasingly more prevalent. As the local authority sold off its in-house services the only place to go was to one of these faceless corporations that were sweeping up social care in this country.

Huge firms raking in millions of pounds profit each year, yet they still can’t give me the hours to guarantee a decent work-life balance. 60-70 hour week or just enough hours to put some petrol in the car – is it any wonder I suffer from anxiety? On occasions I have had to refuse medication for my anxiety, because I simply couldn’t afford the prescription that week.

Is this really the way I want to live?

A few weeks ago one of my regular clients died. We had been together for a long time and had a really close bond. She shared things with me that even her family didn’t know. I feel so guilty. When I was told she had died my first thought was ‘that’s 20 hours a week gone’. Someone who depended on me, who trusted me as a friend, and that was my first thought?

But that’s the reality. A sad reality for many.

Is it too much to ask that care workers are valued and respected? We spend our time caring for the most vulnerable in society yet who cares for us? I have seen many good workers leave frustrated at the poor pay and the way zero-hours contracts are used by way of punishment and reward. If you turn down a shift, hours you were depending on can be taken and given to others, sometimes with only hours’ notice. I have seen how many use this as a way to simply force out staff who may have complained about quality of care. Is this acceptable? Duty of care means that we have to raise concerns, yet many are too scared of the implications financially if they do.

Isn’t it time someone understood their duty of care to us?

Isn’t it time those with the power to make a difference respected and valued care?

As much as I do.

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7 Responses to The reality of zero hours contracts

  1. sdbast says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.


  2. autonomyscotland says:

    Reblogged this on Common Weal.


  3. My BIL is a carer for a private company. He is on a zero hour contract and his hours vary massively week to week. He was made redundant from the navy whilst on active duty. About 3 days after Mr Cameron stood in the House of Parliament and told MP’s that no service personnel on active duty would be made redundant. It took my BIL over a year to find a job. He loves the care work but the terms and conditions of employment are shocking. He can’t ring in sick as if he gives his employers less than 24 hours notice of his absence he will be fined £50, he doesn’t get paid for the time he spends travelling to his clients – he is only paid for the time he spends caring for them. He was given hours all over Christmas despite telling his boss he didn’t want to work Xmas day but would work everything else (he has a young son). It is truly shocking but he is trapped, he can’t find other work despite sending off hundreds of C.V’s and application forms. The care agency has him over a barrel, complain and you get no hours for the following few weeks. He and his co-workers end up visiting vulnerable chronically sick people when they themselves are infectious due to the £50 fine system. It is a disgusting state of affairs. Welcome to Coalition Britain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know many people in your BIL’s situation Rachel and it is truly appalling.

      I have a bit of useful information for your BIL that he may find useful.
      It’s only a small thing, and it won’t solve the overall situation, but it will help him financially regarding the motoring costs associated with using his own car for work purposes.

      Section 336 of the Income Tax, Earnings & Pensions Act 2003 states that where expenses are “incurred wholly, necessarily and exclusively in the performance of the duties of the office or employment” they are subject to tax relief.

      Your BIL should fill in form P87 (see below) and enter the amount of miles travelled for business purposes. He can claim 45 pence a mile for the first 10,000 business miles and 25 pence a mile thereafter.
      This amount is deemed to cover fuel, wear and tear etc.
      He should then send the form in to the tax office.

      So if your BIL travels say 8,000 miles in a tax year (5 April to 6 April) at 45 pence a mile, he would be entitled to £3600

      If he needs any help with filling in the form let me know.

      Happy New Year hun X


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