Our privatised care system treats its workers like dirt – it’s time to put carers at the heart of caring

It's time to end a shameful chapter in which those closest to us – and the people we trust to care for them – are treated as objects of profit.

Communications & Digital Officer


We trust them to look after our parents, grandparents, siblings and friends in some of their most intimate and vulnerable moments.

So what does it say about the kind of society we live in that too often, they’re treated like dirt?

Today seventeen care workers from North London are suing Sevacare, a private contractor, for allegedly paying them a poverty wage of £3.27 per hour, less than half the legal minimum wage.

Several of the workers, who were all on zero-hours contracts, reportedly worked as ‘live-in’ carers in the home of an elderly woman with severe dementia. They say their work involved providing care 24 hours a day, 7 days at a time, without breaks or the ability to leave the house – an experience one compared to being “in prison”.

They have to treat us like human beings, not just someone who is there to make money for them…we were working like slaves…If you tried to take a day off, they threatened to take all the hours from you.

Florence Wambulu One of 17 carers taking Sevacare to court for allegedly breaching minimum wage law

The case also involves Sevacare staff who say that the firm failed to pay them for travelling between visits. Juliet Henry, one of those taking action, says that she visited all of her clients by bus, and that she could spend up to seven hours per day trying to reach them – often longer than she spent caring for them, and time which went unpaid.

And this isn’t a rare horror story or a case of a ‘bad apple’. According to the Resolution foundation, 160,000 care workers in England work for poverty pay, below the minimum wage. Starved of funding, facing soaring demand, and plagued by unscrupulous private care providers sucking shareholder dividends from an already depleted system – our privately dominated care system is on its knees.

It’s easy to talk about the ‘social care crisis’ or to debate the ‘social care sector’ as if it was a problem for academics or policymakers. But it’s a problem for us all. These are the people who care for our parents, our grandparents, our siblings and our friends. And, chances are, we’ll rely on that care ourselves one day, if not already. None of us should want to be left at the mercy of a system which has too often treated its clients like mugs, and its staff like slaves.

So what do we do about it?

It’s time to acknowledge that the objective of making profit is fundamentally at odds with the purpose of providing quality care. Social care is fundamentally social – built on human relationships, reciprocity and trust. A profit-driven model is based on extracting profit and driving cost efficiencies – or to put it bluntly, doing as little as you can for as much money as you can. And more often than not, it’s clients and staff who get squeezed in the process. You can’t make efficiencies out of human relationships.

So it’s time to make relationships, not profit, the driving force behind England’s social care system. In Taking Care, our new report on social care, the Co-operative Party sets out a vision for co-operative social care in which services are owned and run by carers, those who receive care, and their families.

It’s a model used by employee-owned care co-operatives such as Leading Lives in Ipswich, where employees elect members of the Board, using their professional expertise, passion for the job and intimate understanding of their clients’ needs to shape priorities and the direction of the company as a whole.

By listening to their voice, alongside those of cared for people and their families, we can make caring about caring again, ending a shameful chapter in our history in which those closest to us – and the people we trust to care for them – are treated as objects of profit.

Read our report and sign up to the campaign