Time for Government to bring our care workforce in from the cold, says Charity in new report
A new report published by Age UK shows how tough life has been for care workers during the pandemic. The report, ‘Time to bring our care workers in from the cold’, highlights the extent to which care workers have often had to put their own health and financial worries at the bottom of the pile while battling to keep the virus at bay and their clients safe and well.
Those on the front line of this crisis have rightly been lauded as heroes, but for our care workers these have too often been merely warm words. The Charity is calling on the Government to do more to recognise their enormous contribution by improving their salaries so they are the same as those for people doing the equivalent job in the NHS, and by supporting their physical and mental wellbeing.
Today, care workers are still labouring on the frontline, working long hours to help older and disabled people, while being extremely tired and, in some cases, still coming to terms with the suffering and loss they witnessed and tried valiantly to prevent earlier in the pandemic.
Despite being roughly equivalent in size to the NHS workforce, the 1.65 million strong care workforce has seen only relatively limited support put in place. While the NHS has been prioritised for PPE, testing, mental health support, priority access to shops and pay rises, offers to social care have been more limited and have generally only arrived late in the day.
On top of this, many care workers are left struggling to make ends meet, with the average salary for a care worker being only around £15,000 about half the UK average. This means care workers are paid 24p less an hour than shop assistants, despite the vital nature of their role and the skill required to help people with complex needs. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the NHS have been awarded a real-terms pay increase up until 2020/2021.
As one Care Home Manager told us
“Money is always the elephant in the room, if I’m paid the bare minimum to deliver care safely, I can only pay my staff the bare minimum to do their jobs and the work that my staff have done, particularly at the moment, deserves better. Our care staff have to work an 80 hour week to earn £2500 per month, and in that 80 hour week every week, they are at risk of catching [Covid-19], and they work so hard.”
If terms and conditions are not urgently improved, Age UK delivers a stark warning for the future of care for older people. Even with a recent recruitment drive, the care sector in England still needs to fill around 122,000 job vacancies – a huge task. It was also estimated prior to the pandemic that to meet the needs of an ageing society the care workforce would need to grow by 2.6% every year until 2035, to a total of 2 million jobs. Need has been increased by the pandemic so that startling statistic is now in all likelihood an under-estimate.
- Four in five social care workers reported that their mental health had been damaged by their work during the pandemic
- 42% of healthcare workers felt the Government had not done enough to support their mental health
- One in ten care workers said they were aware of colleagues who continued to work, despite having COVID-19 symptoms
- 8% – percentage of respondents to Unisons’ survey of care workers who were told they would receive no pay at all if they had to self-isolate or were off sick
- 54% – percentage of care workers who were paid less than £8.72 prior to the New Living Wage rise
- £15,000 – the average salary of a care worker
- £4.18 million – the extra cost faced by providers for PPE for the months of April to September
- 1000% – the increase in the cost of masks reported in April . The cost of gloves increased by 30%, aprons by 166%.
- 122,000 – estimated number of care workforce vacancies before the pandemic
- 25% – average percentage of frontline care staff unable to work by the end of March
- 6.35 million – extra days that providers lost to staff sickness in March and July, more than twice what is usually expected
This national health emergency has thrown into sharp relief how poorly care workers are supported to do their work. During the pandemic we clapped for care staff to thank them for their amazing contributions, often carried out at risk to their own health. This richly deserved gratitude must now translate into practical improvements in care workers’ terms and conditions.
Age UK believes the Government must:
Treat care workers fairly by:
- Implementing nationally set pay scales that providers must meet, that achieve parity with the NHS for the same roles, paid for through extra Government funding
- Making an improved learning and development offer to care workers so they are better equipped to care for people with increasingly complex needs.
- Ensuring that any new immigration system allows for overseas workers, including those from the E.U. to enter the country easily, to take up a role working in social care
- Support the physical and mental wellbeing of care staff through a national initiative, locally implemented, as the NHS has done with its ‘People Plan’.
Protect social care workers and those they care for throughout the pandemic by:
- Publishing a workforce plan which addresses minimum staffing ratios and how to increase the number of staff working in care
- Ensuring PPE of appropriate quality is readily available to all social care providers and really does reach everyone on the front line, not only those working in care homes
- Continuing to distribute money via the Infection Control Fund to support providers to meet the extra costs of PPE, and to allow care staff to remain on full pay if they have to self-isolate
- Tasking Skills for Care and the CQC to work with social care providers to spread good practice in managing and supporting care staff through the remainder of the pandemic.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“We owe so much to the care workers of this country, who labour day in, day out to support millions of older and disabled people. They have had a torrid time during the pandemic and now we need to properly reward them for their staying power and their commitment.
“Older people often tell us how grateful they are for the help they receive from care staff and I know from the experience of my own Mum that they make a life-changing difference. But how have we allowed a position to be reached in which you can earn more working in a supermarket than providing vital care, and enjoy better terms, conditions and career opportunities in the NHS for doing precisely the same job?”
“The lack of Government funding for care often translates into exploitative working conditions for care staff, which in turn undermine the quality of care on offer to older and disabled people. Social care is above all a people business and if you don’t value the men and women who provide it you are undervaluing those who receive it too.”
“For the sake of everyone who needs social care as well as all those who deliver it we are calling on the Government to treat care workers fairly and provide the funding for them to get a decent wage. Their pay and conditions need levelling up to match those of similar roles in the NHS.
“The pandemic has shown how much we rely on social care and how badly it needs to be reformed, and a good place to start is by paying the workforce properly.”