Half of frontline care workers paid less than living wage
Staff working to keep vulnerable people safe should have immediate pay rise, says thinktank
More than half of social care workers putting their health at risk during the coronavirus outbreak are paid below the real cost of living, according to an analysis of their working conditions. Staff are also four times more likely to be on a zero-hours contract than the average worker.
Many care workers and providers were continuing to experience shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and access to testing this weekend, amid concerns in local government over the extent of the pandemic. One estimate suggests that 5,300 people have died in care homes from Covid-19, dwarfing official estimates. Care England, an industry trade association, said the figure could be above 7,000 deaths.
With care workers battling to help the vulnerable, there are renewed demands for a rethink of their pay. The Resolution Foundation think tank said that about half of frontline care workers, some 1 million people, were paid less than the real living wage of £10.75 an hour in London and £9.30 an hour across the rest of Britain. The figure, set by the Living Wage Foundation, is based on everyday living costs in the UK. Among the lowest rung roles in private care companies in England, as many as 90% of workers were paid below the real living wage last year. Tens of thousands also appear to be being paid illegally below the national minimum wage.
“Clapping is welcome, but care workers will value better pay and conditions even more,” the analysis states. “Better pay in care should have long been a priority given the vital role care workers play in protecting the vulnerable – delivering it now is the least we can do.”
There are also concerns that some care providers may not survive the crisis. Some are already being propped up by cash-strapped councils. In response, the government announced on Fridaythat councils across England will receive a further £1.6bn to deal with the immediate impacts of coronavirus, taking total pandemic funding to more than £3.2bn.
The impact of coronavirus in care, and especially care homes, remains unclear. The Office for National Statistics recorded 217 care home deaths from the virus by 3 April. However, Laing Buisson, a leading healthcare industry analysis company, said it estimated there had been 5,300 deaths in homes, based on calculations made after an industry survey. Government officials are working to improve the data, but warned that estimates risked causing alarm.
A new coronavirus strategy for adult social care was published last week after outcries from care homes and other providers that they were struggling to deal with outbreaks and with PPE shortages and access to testing. New systems are in place to distribute protective equipment, while access to testing has been widened.
Liz Kendall, the shadow care minister, said: “The emerging crisis in our care homes must be a wake-up call for the government. Despite repeated claims it is clear ministers aren’t getting enough protective equipment or testing to the frontline. Millions of elderly and disabled people, their families and care workers need to know exactly how and when the government will get a grip and prevent further lives being lost.”
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Social care as a whole has been desperately underfunded for decades and we have been consistently calling for a cross-party consensus on the future of care and how we pay for it, long before the coronavirus crisis.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our adult social care action plan sets out how we are protecting workers by ramping up testing across the system for care workers and their families and we’re ensuring millions of additional PPE items reach those on the frontline with local resilience forums identifying those most in need of more.”