Local authorities should change how they commission home care, and in particular ensure that workers are paid the minimum wage, according to a review of care published today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The way care is currently commissioned is unsustainable, the report warns, leading to inadequate pay, poor working conditions for care workers and increasing threats to older people's human rights.
EHRC Commissioner Sarah Veale said: "We recognise the extreme financial pressure local authorities are under. However, some authorities have taken innovative action in partnership with providers and older people to improve how they deliver care, without significant increases in expenditure."
For example, she continued, closing the curtains when people are getting undressed or not talking over them does not cost anything and it makes a difference.
While many of the activities care workers have to carry out require similar qualities to other professions such as nurses, the EHRC notes, their role is viewed as lower status.
Very low pay, together with highly-pressured working conditions and a lack of support are likely to exacerbate the high turnover of staff, making care recipients more vulnerable to neglectful or abusive treatment.
The EHRC is now calling for all contracts commissioning home care to include a requirement that care workers are paid at least the National Minimum Wage, including payment for travel time and costs.
Local authorities should be transparent, it urged, and set out how the rates they pay cover the costs of safe and legal care, with cost models published on their websites.