Private homecare workers were being "exploited", effectively paid below the minimum wage and with little or no training, a leading trade union claimed today.
Unison warned that elderly people were being left without the care and support they needed because of the poor treatment of staff.
Companies routinely employed staff on zero hours contracts, with huge swings in paid hours and refused to pay for travel time between visits, so that many home carers were effectively paid below the minimum wage, said Unison.
Workers were also not offered basic training, including how to administer medicines, while many employees had to pay for their own transport, mobile phones and uniforms, it was alleged.
Unison, which is holding its national conference in Bournemouth this week, called for better training and working conditions for homecare workers.
General secretary Dave Prentis said: "It is a scandal that private homecare companies are boosting profits for themselves, but short-changing elderly people and staff.
"They are cutting corners by scrimping and saving on what they pay their staff. This has a huge knock on effect on elderly people relying on care to live independent lives in their own homes.
"Many Unison members tell us they miss out on basic training, including how to give medicines or deal with people with dementia, which is a routine part of the job.
"Most care workers are on the minimum wage as it is. It's a disgrace that private companies, who can get paid more than £15 from local authorities for an hour of care, exploit staff on low wages by refusing to pay for travel time. Over the course of a day, this can lead to some carers slipping below the national minimum wage.
"Improving pay rates, providing more training, and allowing staff enough time to visit people and travel between appointments, would instantly boost standards of care, giving people the dignity they deserve."