Dean Hochlaf: Care workers must be paid a real Living Wage to tackle recruitment crisis

Pay needs to increase in the social care sector according to the IPPR think-tank.
Pay needs to increase in the social care sector according to the IPPR think-tank.
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By 2025, over a quarter of adults in Yorkshire and the Humber will be above the age of 65. This means that we can expect to see a significant increase in demand for adult social care in the region.

Social care is a vital public service, but the sector is facing a severe and growing workforce crisis, and this should concern us all. Across England, there are over 100,000 unfilled vacancies, more than 7,000 of which are in Yorkshire and the Humber alone.

In fact, new analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that by 2030, the number of vacancies will reach 350,000 – or possibly even more if freedom of movement is curtailed as a result of Brexit.

Ultimately, these vacancies will have a severely detrimental impact on the ability of providers to deliver high-quality, personal care to those in need. 

It is low pay and poor conditions, something that has come to characterise the sector, which is the root cause of this growing crisis.

Over 54,000 workers in social care in Yorkshire and the Humber, nearly half of the workforce, earn below the real Living Wage – the amount calculated by the Living Wage Foundation to be enough for employees and their families to live on.

Scandalously, many workers in the sector aren’t even paid the minimum wage.

It is impossible to expect people to commit themselves to long-hours and challenging conditions when they don’t even earn enough to get by.  

Poor wages are an inevitable consequence of the chronic underfunding of social care. At a time when demand for these services is rapidly rising, swingeing cuts to local authorities have reduced spending.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, social care spending fell by seven per cent per person between 2009-10 and 2015-16. Across the country, local authorities are reducing the amount they spend commissioning care.

While the UK Homecare Association estimates the cost 
of delivering care is £18.01 an hour, the average amount paid by local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber is only £15.51 an hour.

In the context of this chronic underfunding, outsourced social care providers have sought to minimise labour costs in order to win contracts.

Providers that wish to pay more are unable to do so, as they are undercut by the rest. As a result, poverty pay has become 
a defining feature of the social care sector.

There is no single solution to the growing crisis in social care, but introducing a real Living Wage would be an important step towards improving conditions and to having a positive impact for hundreds of thousands of low paid workers. 

The Government’s so-called National Living Wage has led to improved wages, so excessively high turnover has been somewhat mitigated.

But introducing the real Living Wage must be the next step.

An upcoming – and long delayed – Green Paper on social care will provoke discussion on how to improve the sector and working conditions and pay should be central to this.

The real Living Wage is currently set at £9.00 an hour – far higher than the National Living Wage. If implemented 
for social care workers, it 
would benefit over 54,000 workers in Yorkshire and the Humber alone, meaning an average of £1,000 for each care worker in the region. And it would reduce the number of low paid workers across the region by 10 per cent too.

The good news is that the cost of delivering this would be relatively small. At IPPR, we have called on the Government to raise National Insurance by 1p in the pound to generate £350m a week for health and social care services.

In this context, introducing the real Living Wage in Yorkshire and the Humber would require an achievable initial investment of £43m a year, or £445m across England. 

So, the real Living Wage could be delivered in Yorkshire at a relatively minor cost, to the benefit of the sector, local communities, and most importantly – people. It would also reduce low pay in Yorkshire and the Humber considerably and help care providers recruit and retain the workers they need.

In the long-term it is crucial that workers, providers and the Government work together to ensure that the sector receives appropriate funding that guarantees a Living Wage, opportunities for progression, adequate training and fair contracts to bolster conditions 
in the sector.  

A Living Wage is not an extravagant demand. Care workers fulfil a vital role in society, and delivering care is 
a skilled task.

It is time that we valued the labour of care workers properly and ensure that they can 
support themselves after spending their work day supporting others.

Dean Hochlaf is a researcher at the IPPR think-tank. He tweets @Dhochlaf.