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Care worker pay ‘should rise to at least £12 an hour’

Written by: Rebecca Goodman
The minimum wage for social care workers should increase to £12.42 an hour from April, a leading think tank suggests.

There needs to be a “higher, sector-specific wage floor for care work”, set at £2 above the minimum wage, according to the Resolution Foundation.

It argued carers should also be paid for the time it takes to travel between clients as many do not receive any pay towards this.

While those working in social care have high levels of job satisfaction, they often have to work in unsafe conditions and are paid under the minimum wage, according to a report by the think tank.

In April 2022, the average hourly pay for a frontline care worker was £10.90. This is lower than the economy-wide average for low-paid roles of £14.47. It’s less, for example, than nursing assistants who earn an average of £11.14 per hour.

The report also stated that social care workers were previously paid a premium for their role to reflect the skills and challenges involved when compared to other low-paid jobs. Yet this has slowly been disappearing.

In 2011, for example, social care workers were paid around 5% more than other low-paid jobs and this fell to 1% in 2021.

It comes as recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), revealed there were around five million unpaid carers in England and Wales, the majority of whom are women.

‘You can get paid more at Lidl or Aldi’

One of the biggest frustrations of workers in social care is the rate of pay. In a focus group many said “you can basically get paid more at Lidl or Aldi”, according to the report.

The report also warned that the scale of low pay for social care workers is likely to be far worse than official figures show. It said that workers being unlawfully paid under the minimum wage is potentially widespread and that care workers are rarely paid for the time it takes to travel between clients.

If a worker is paid £11.07 an hour, for example, and spends 20% of their time, or 12 minutes an hour, travelling between clients, they are actually being paid an hourly wage of £9.20 which is 30p an hour below the minimum wage.

While some of these workers do receive a mileage allowance, this is designed merely to cover the petrol costs already borne by the worker, and is not counted as pay when it comes to the minimum wage, the Foundation said.

Care workers in residential homes are facing issues of under-staffing and resultant safety breaches. Respondents to the report said because of shortages of staff, jobs that require two people were often being carried out by one.

Social care workers deeply value their jobs

Many of those who took part in the survey said they deeply value their jobs and see them more as a vocation than a job.

Findings from 2017 – the most recent data available – showed that 88% of social care workers were satisfied with their job, compared to 83% of those in other low-paid roles.

Less than half of care workers also leave their jobs compared to two-thirds of those in jobs including call centres, cleaning, storage and leisure.

Demand for care workers is also predicted to rise because of the UK’s ageing society. Yet unless pay improves, staff shortages are likely to worsen, the report warned.

‘Addressing the problem is urgent’

Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Social care workers fulfil a skilled and hugely necessary role in our society, and make a real difference to people’s lives. That’s why they love their jobs more than other low-paid workers do.

“But the danger is this sense of vocation and commitment comes with a high price, including unlawful under-payment of the minimum wage and unsafe working conditions for some.

“Addressing these problems isn’t cost-free but it is urgent, given the chronic shortage of care workers.

“Improving working conditions in the care sector is the only route to making it more attractive for new recruits and giving our ageing society the level of care it deserves.”

Related: Rejected for NHS Continuing Healthcare? £400m in care costs refunded

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