A disability charity has been accused of hypocrisy and misleading the public, after its chief executive publicly backed the living wage for care staff, while continuing to pay her own employees just above the minimum wage.
Claire Pelham, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), wrote in the Huffington Post online magazine last year – in a piece about her work as a commissioner on the Demos Commission on Residential Care – that care work should be seen as a “wonderful career choice with great training”, while “nothing less than a living-wage should be acceptable”.
But investigations by a leading disabled activist, Doug Paulley (pictured), have revealed what appears to be hypocrisy behind Pelham’s words.
The living wage is current £7.85 an hour in most of the UK, and £9.15 an hour in London, while the legal minimum wage is £6.50 an hour for workers aged 21 and over.
But an advert for a residential care worker, posted by LCD on 1 April 2015, states that the wage offered is just £6.53 per hour.
When Paulley had previously complained to LCD about its failure to pay the living wage, the charity told him that it would like to do so, but was not paid enough by councils.
Paulley subsequently issued freedom of information requests to every local authority in the country with social services responsibilities, asking them if LCD had requested them to pay higher fees for placements in its care homes so that they could pay their staff the living wage.
Paulley, who lives in an LCD residential care home, also asked the local authorities how generously LCD was paid compared to other providers.
He was shocked when, of the 121 councils that responded and held correspondence with LCD about fees, not one of them said they had been asked to raise their fees by LCD so the charity could pay staff a living wage.
And of the 72 councils that provided Paulley with comparable data on fees paid to LCD and other providers of residential care for adults under 65 whose primary need is physical impairment, 56 said they paid more to LCD than to other providers.
After Paulley’s father told LCD about the results of the research, he received a letter on 22 May from Vicky Hemming, LCD’s people director, telling him: “We remain in regular dialogue with commissioners, and have in fact recently written to all local authorities who commission our services about our desire to pay the living wage.”
After seeing her letter, Paulley wrote back to 21 of the local authorities that had been most helpful with his initial enquiries, and asked them whether LCD had written to them recently to request higher fees so the charity could pay its staff a living wage.
So far, six local authorities have written back to Paulley, and all six have said that LCD made no mention of the living wage in any correspondence.
Just one council – Luton – has now responded to one of his original freedom of information requests to say that LCD asked it to increase fees to help it pay the living wage to staff.
A Leonard Cheshire spokeswoman insisted that the charity had “recently written to all councils who commission our services in England about our desire to pay the living wage”.
She said: “We have already received some replies and are following up with councils from which we have not yet received answers.
“However, this is just one element of a wide-ranging approach by the charity to ensure our frontline care staff are paid fairly within our current resources and in a way that is sustainable in the future.
“To achieve this aim we need support from commissioners to increase their fees so we can pass this directly onto care staff.
“However, we recognise that many local authorities continue to face extreme budget pressures and consequently our pay rates are often constrained by this.”
On receiving this statement, DNS informed LCD that it had seen responses from six local authorities to Paulley’s question, all of which made it clear that they had received no such request from LCD.
A letter from East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: “We have been in correspondence with LCD about fees levels but this has not being regarding the living wage.”
Brighton and Hove council also said they had not received any correspondence from Leonard Cheshire on the living wage, while Lewisham council said that its last letter from Leonard Cheshire – which does not mention the living wage – arrived last December.
Three Welsh local authorities have provided similar responses, including Monmouthshire, which told Paulley on 1 June: “Monmouthshire County Council has received further correspondence from Leonard Cheshire Disability about fees but no mention has been made of the Living Wage.”
An LCD spokeswoman said the latest letters had been sent out to local authorities at the end of March, and that she had just seen a “template” of the letters which referred to the living wage.
But Paulley said he was appalled by what the freedom of information responses revealed, and by the charity’s actions.
He said: “The living wage is incredibly important. Carers do a difficult and under-valued job. I think all the good ones are exploited.
“They do it despite the poor pay and the unsociable hours and poor recognition.
“Leonard Cheshire Disability as a leader should lead the way and pay their carers properly.
“The way that they are apparently shying away from it and pretending to do something about it when they really haven’t is frankly shameful.”