Express & Star Comment: Back pay is potentially disastrous
The organisations that provide specialist support for people with learning disabilities do an admirable job.
Thanks to their efforts, hundreds of thousands of people across the country are able to live independent lives.
But the sector is facing the worst crisis in decades, as a result of £400 million bill to fund back payments for staff providing overnight 'sleep-in' care.
This type of support was previously paid for by providers as a flat rate allowance.
However, in October last year the Government ruled that overnight 'sleep-in' time qualified for national minimum wage payments.
And crucially, the HMRC has demanded that providers pay six years worth of back pay.
Many of the providers offering this vital support are charities or family-run businesses. They simply do not have the money spare to pay for six years of back payments.
The vast majority of providers have no issue with paying their staff the new rates, despite many of them still not receiving the extra funding required from local authorities.
But supplying such vast sums in back pay is a different issue altogether.
To put it bluntly, the sector is on the cusp of a catastrophe.
If the Government elects to enforce payment, many providers will go out of business.
The result will lead to job losses, with thousands of care workers in the West Midlands among those whose livelihoods are hanging in the balance.
The subsequent reduction in the number of providers will have a devastating impact on people with learning disabilities.
Not only will they find their access to care limited, but their chances of living independent lives in the community will be drastically reduced.
For some, the only option available will be to move home, potentially to a place that may not be adapted to suit their specialist needs.
There will also be a knock on effect, with a significant number of people with learning disabilities forced to live in hospitals, adding to the strain on the NHS.
Today the chief executive of the charity Mencap, Jan Tregelles, has called on the Government to fund the outstanding back pay.
One thing is certain. Ministers need to thoroughly examine the consequences of pursuing this potentially disastrous measure.