An employment tribunal in Scotland has ruled that two foster carers must be recognised as employees. James and Christine Johnstone argued they were entitled to benefits as employees of Glasgow City Council, and the tribunal ruled in their favour.
Judge Ian McFatridge noted that his ruling was based on the particular type of fostering work that the Johnstones undertake, and stressed that it was not a wider judgment on the status of all foster carers.
Nonetheless, the outcome has been hailed as a landmark ruling, which other fostering providers will need to consider, and there is no question that the status of foster carers is an issue that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
There are different types of foster carers, and financial arrangements vary from provider to provider. But, as a rule, foster carers are usually self-employed. They receive an allowance for looking after children and young people in their own homes. But because they are not employees they are not entitled to benefits such as holiday pay and sick leave, and must make their own pension arrangements. They also have limited legal protection when things go wrong. A placement can end suddenly, without notice, and the allowance is discontinued immediately.
If this arrangement seems precarious, that is because it is. Despite this, there are more than 50,000 families in the UK willing to welcome children and young people into their homes, often for an unlimited time and usually at a moment’s notice.
It is an arrangement that is coming under strain. There are many reasons for this, but a key issue is that fostering allowances have fallen in real terms, and often no longer cover the cost of providing homes to children. Other support for fostering families has been curtailed, as austerity has taken its toll. In addition, placements are becoming more complex and taking longer to resolve.
Will employment status address these concerns? My view is that it will not. Personally, I would not want to become an employee of our local authority,…