73% of care workers struggle to afford day-to-day essentials, research finds

Elliot Chappell

Research commissioned by Citizens UK into the effect of low pay on employees in the care sector has found that 73% of workers are struggling to afford their day-to-day essentials, including buying food and paying bills.

Following publication of the data, which showed 87% of carers reporting that they worry so much about money that it affects their everyday life, Citizens UK has called on ministers to better fund the sector through local councils.

“This research confirms what we know and have been fighting for: all key workers, including care workers, deserve to be paid at least the real living wage, with the pandemic only intensifying this need,” Matthew Bolton said.

56% of care workers were found to be skipping meals for financial reasons. 20% told researchers that they skip meals “all the time” and 38% said they did so “often” or “occasionally”. 24% said they use a food bank or other aid provider.

The Citizens UK executive director added: “More funding is needed from the government to local authorities to ensure this happens in the social care sector, but we also need employers in the industry accrediting with the Living Wage Foundation to pay their employees a wage they can live off.”

Of the 73% of social care workers who said that they struggle to afford their day-to-day essentials, including food and bills, 60% said they struggled “all the time” or “often”. Of the 72% that said that the worry and stress of low pay negatively affects their work, 37% of those said it negatively affected their work “all the time”.

Analysis by Labour earlier this year showed that raising social care staff pay to at least £10 per hour would result in rises of up to £3,500 a year, which the party said would help secure the economy and contribute to the post-Covid recovery.

The party’s Liz Kendall signalled in April that Labour would look to Joe Biden’s plans for social care in the US, which takes a home-first’ approach to care and includes investment in home care as part of the post-pandemic infrastructure plan.

The shadow care minister told the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services that Labour would pursue reform of the social care system, tackling its “deep rooted and long-standing problems” with a ten-year plan of investment and reform.

Angela Rayner and Thangam Debbonaire pushed Jacob Rees-Mogg in August to ensure that time in the parliamentary schedule was allocated for a private members’ bill to ensure home care workers are paid at least the minimum wage.

Domiciliary, or home, care jobs now account for more than residential care with nearly half a million home care staff in England. Most are employed by private companies and 42% of home care workers are employed on zero-hours contracts.

The Low Pay Commission estimated in 2019 that 420,000 of two million workers paid the minimum wage were not being awarded the proper legal rate. Labour’s Paula Barker had been due to introduce legislation on the issue.

A report released by Age UK in November last year warned of a looming recruitment crisis in the sector if conditions do not improve, highlighting that there are 122,000 care sector job vacancies that need to be filled.

The charity raised concerns over low pay and personal protective equipment supply, and exposed a disparity between the way the government has approached support for those working in the NHS and those in the care sector during Covid.

The organisation argued that the 1.65 million people working in care have seen “only relatively limited support put in place” throughout the pandemic with poor access to PPE, testing, mental health support and priority access to shops.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told LabourList: “We appreciate the dedication and tireless work of health and social care staff throughout the pandemic. We have provided record levels of investment to support them and we are investing £36bn in health and care over the next three years – including £5.4 billion for social care – to put in place comprehensive reforms that are sustainable and fit for the future.

“We are ensuring that the social care system is funded so that providers can pay the national minimum and national living wages to social care workers. Since the introduction of the national living wage in 2016, care worker pay has increased at a faster rate than before.”

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