A study on the impact of coronavirus in care homes in England has indicated that care homes often had higher levels of coronavirus infection among staff when they employed staff who worked across multiple sites.
The government has consulted on new regulations to limit staff movement between care homes, and between care homes and other health and care settings. The regulations would mean residential and nursing care home providers in England must restrict the movement of staff providing personal care or nursing care in their services.
Minimising work in multiple locations is sensible to control the spread of Covid infections. But without planning across the sector including looking at models of employment and levels of wages, it will lead to chaos in provision and poverty for low-paid, mainly women workers.
Many care workers earn barely more than the minimum wage and are on zero-hours contracts. This leaves them no choice but to take up jobs with several employers.
Banning employees from working in more than one care home without guaranteeing wages will plunge thousands of low-income families into poverty, trigger staff shortages, and put residents at risk.
The “one job” rule could work with local sector-wide plans rationally distributing resources and hours, with a guarantee that staff can work additional hours or get compensation for lost wages. Otherwise already low-paid workers won’t have enough money to survive, and may drop out of care work, causing sudden staff shortages.
Local authorities or the Care Quality Commission should be given powers to ensure care providers set up these arrangements, says the public-service workers’ union Unison. The union also wants a review of the level of the government’s “infection control fund” (supposed to fund the care sector, via councils, to keep care homes safe, for example by isolation pay).
Low pay across the care sector causes not only poverty for the workers but precarious and unsustainable services for communities.