In March, the supreme court ruled that care workers on sleep-in shifts do not have to be paid at minimum wage rates for the hours they are asleep. Instead, the court said employees are only entitled to national minimum wage when they are awake and looking after people.

The case proved to be very controversial, with the UK’s largest union, UNISON, and learning disability charity Mencap on the opposing side, fighting for care workers to be paid fairly throughout the entirety of their shift.

Mencap and UNISON have now written jointly to the Prime Minister, demanding the government acts urgently to amend the current rules.

“Care staff should be paid for all the hours they’re at work”

Mencap contested the case due to the huge back pay bill facing the care sector, and UNISON supported Clare Tomlinson-Blake because it believes care staff should be paid for all the hours they're at work.

In the letter addressed to Boris Johnson, both state they are “united in the same vision” of a “properly funded care sector”. They say: “paying staff decent wages is a major part of this” and “fair pay means care providers can retain the skilled workforce that’s essential for excellent care”.

UNISON and Mencap urge Boris Johnson to ask the Low Pay Commission to investigate the issue of sleep-in pay and reassess the status of shifts so “the entirety of these” are treated as working time. They remind the Prime Minister that “care workers are already among the lowest paid in the country” and some earn less per hour than the average retail assistant. They state: “We need to prevent their pay being eroded further.”

Low Pay Commission urged to investigate the issue

The letter continues: “The demands on sleep-in workers are considerable. They’re expected to respond to the people they support at any time and at a moment’s notice during the night.

“Acute underfunding lies at the heart of why social care is not fit for purpose. Central government must make more resources available to local authorities to allow much-needed reform. Improving the pay of care workers is the most sensible starting point.

“Each of us will have a friend or relative who relies on the exceptional support provided by social care staff. Or may well need help ourselves one day. This is your chance, Prime Minister, to show you value their remarkable work with fair pay.”

“Care workers are among the lowest paid in society, yet they do vital, highly-skilled work supporting our loved ones”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The crisis in social care is a betrayal of the most vulnerable in society. The whole sector has been broken for years and the government has ignored this. Proper wages for every hour staff work are a key part of much-needed reform. The fact UNISON and Mencap are united on this issue shows the strength of feeling across the care sector that enough is enough. Ministers must take heed and act now.”

Edel Harris, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “Care workers are among the lowest paid in society, yet they do vital, highly-skilled work supporting our loved ones. They deserve better pay. Boris Johnson promised to fix social care – paying fairly for overnight support is the first step. Today, we’re joining UNISON to urge the Prime Minister to change minimum wage legislation. Ultimately, the government’s reforms must include properly funding social care and improving pay to create a world-class social care system we can be proud of.”