Employers have been urged by Unite the union to give a ‘new deal’ to the UK’s 10,000 ‘Shared Lives’ foster carers who look after about 14,000 vulnerable adults, many with learning difficulties, in their homes.

Unite said that many of the foster carers – employed by 150 different councils, as well as NHS trusts and charities – cannot take paid holidays or respite care, and that many of them have not had a pay rise in over a decade.

The plight of the carers was highlighted by today’s (Monday 13 September) edition of BBC Radio Four’s You & Yours programme, following Boris Johnson’s announcement on the future funding of social care last week.

The union also said that many of the carers had faced victimisation for daring to challenge their poor pay and employment conditions. Many are now leaving the profession which was detrimental to the vulnerable adults who had become much-loved members of the family.

In its call for a new deal for foster carers, Unite said there should be:

  • £315-a-week minimum for care and support 
  • £100-a-week to cover the cost of food and utilities expenses
  • Housing benefit to be paid in full to carers
  • An end to victimisation of carers for challenging their present pay and conditions.

Unite regional officer Richard Stanforth said: “’Shared Lives’ carers are effectively ‘foster carers’ for vulnerable adults. There are about 10,000 such carers under self-employed contracts with 150 different local authorities, and some NHS trusts and charities.

“Many ‘Shared Lives’ carers cannot take paid or unpaid holiday, as some councils refuse to provide respite care, and many of them have not had a ‘rise’ in more than  a decade which is disgraceful considering the soaring cost of living in recent times.

“Most of the people they care for have learning difficulties, but the schemes have expanded the types of people they will host to include people with mental health difficulties and victims of trafficking.

“They are proud to be ‘Shared Lives’ carers, but some employers have victimised and threatened carers for trying to secure better rights.  Their biggest fear is that they will lose the people they care for – many of whom have lived with the carers for years and have become much-loved family members.  

“Our members are leaving the profession, which is a false economy, as research by not for profit consultancy Social Finance has shown that ‘Shared Lives’ carers save councils £26,000-a-year for every individual they host at home rather than being in a care home.  On top of that, a friendly home environment is obviously much better for the people they care for. 

“Some local authorities effectively stop them taking unpaid respite or leave and they are not allowed to sub-contract. 

“However, some councils are excellent and they do give carers 42 days-a-year respite care and have increased their ‘pay’ each year, and have made large automatic payments to cover the 24/7 care that many of them are now doing because of the pandemic. 

“Normally, many vulnerable adults go to day centres or supported work schemes, but this stopped because of Covid-19. Our members want all work schemes to offer a set of minimum standards. 

“The ‘at home’ schemes are not supposed to be taking people who need 24/7 care, but increasingly the level of support that the people being hosted need has grown over the years, with schemes taking on people with greater and greater needs.  Some people require help to eat or to use the bathroom and wash themselves and would not be able to make decisions independently to do this.

“With our four-point ‘new deal’, Unite is campaigning strongly for these injustices experienced by this group of workers caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens to be remedied immediately by those employers falling short.”

Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers' living standards.


 Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org 

Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.