Low-paid care workers face a “race to the bottom” as cuts to local authority funding and a sell-off of homes to private companies leads to falling wages and poor working conditions, research has found.
Warnings have been made of a workforce crisis as carers face increasingly demanding workloads while remaining among the lowest paid people in the country.
A study by Sheffield Hallam University found that reduced local authority funding means there is little opportunity to increase wages.
At the same time, care home residents are becoming increasingly frail, leading to rising demands on staff.
The research found that many staff were on different wages for carrying out the same work because of differences in local authority and private sector contracts, while younger staff are penalised as they do not qualify for adult rates.
Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams, said: “Unfortunately, these poor working terms and conditions are a sure fire recipe for poor care. Older people and those who care for them both deserve a much better deal.”
In Yorkshire and Humber alone there are currently an estimated 7,200 unfilled vacancies and around 55,000 more social care staff will be needed by 2035.
Sheffield Hallam University’s Professor Peter Prowse said: "It’s a race to the bottom. Care workers are working harder because there are fewer staff and the clients they are looking after have been getting more dependent and less mobile. “
Care staff interviewed for the study told how more staff are desperately needed to care for an ageing population of vulnerable people who are becoming increasingly dependent on support.
The report, submitted to the Low Pay Commission, the independent body that advises the Government on the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage, said workers felt that said increases in staffing levels would made the most difference in improving their working lives.
The report said: “All the respondents expressed a deep commitment to, and job satisfaction with, caring for residents.”
One told the researchers: “I want to see more people in the care industry so I’ve got more time. And I think that’s my biggest frustration that I haven’t got enough time to do the things I want to do for the people that I’m working with.”
Another said: “I love caring and I do enjoy it but I find it more and more frustrating. The biggest problem for me is not having enough staff. If I have more staff, I have more time to do the care that I want to do and that’s the biggest thing.”
The report found that many care workers are paid different amounts for the same work because if differences in local authority terms of employment and lower wages in the private sector.
Care staff who had transferred from councils to private firms were also losing out on employment benefits because they are only protected for a limited amount of time under employment law. A group of former local-authority staff interviewed for the research had been given six months’ notice that “enhancements” including weekend rates and additional holidays for long service would be reduced, along with sick pay and employers’ pension contributions.
The report said: “All workers stated they could not afford to accept these reductions in their pay as the loss of enhancements reduced the overall take-home pay their conditions.”
One worker said: “Well I am going to lose approximately £3,500 a year, plus five days’ reduced holiday.”
Another, who faced losing £63 a week for night allowances and double-time at weekends, said: “Well that’s to put me below the breadline.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The social care workforce works tirelessly to support the most vulnerable people in our society.
“Average salaries for care workers in the independent sector have gone up by nine per cent since 2015 and this year we launched a national recruitment campaign to raise the image and profile of the sector.
“We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9bn more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services. We will set out our plans to reform the system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future, including proposals to boost recruitment, retention, and workforce development.”