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Think-tank calls for £2 pay premium for care home staff

Care home workers should be paid at least £2 above the adult minimum wage, a think-tank has said in a new report.

Who cares? published by the Resolution Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy proposes minimum pay of £12.42 an hour from April this year (when the minimum wage will increase to £10.42).  

The report finds that care home workers have higher levels of job satisfaction and stronger job attachment than those in other low-paying sectors. However, many have to contend with unsafe working conditions and unlawful under-payment of the minimum wage.

It states that in April 2022, typical hourly pay among frontline care workers was £10.90 – below the economy-wide average of £14.47, and less than some of the rates offered in other low-paid jobs, including those in transport and call centres, as well as the average rate paid to public sector nursing assistants (£11.14 an hour).

Importantly for recruitment, the ‘pay premium’ social care workers historically commanded relative to most other low-paid jobs (reflecting the additional skills and challenges involved) has been slowly disappearing. The Migration Advisory Committee calculated that in 2011, the average care worker’s hourly pay was 5 per cent higher than other low-paid jobs. By 2021 that difference had fallen to just 1 per cent.

For care workers in residential homes – of whom there were estimated 445,000 in England in 2021-22 – issues surrounding understaffing, and resultant safety breaches, are a key concern. Focus group participants told the Foundation that, due to widespread worker shortages, tasks that require at least two people present were often being carried out by a single worker.

Even so, participants spoke about how the role felt more like a “vocation” than a job, and about how much they valued the “rewarding” human connections they were able to form with their clients. Almost nine in ten workers (88 per cent) reported job satisfaction  with their job, compared to 83 per cent of those in other low-paid roles. Care workers are also more likely to stay within their sector than other low paid workers.

However, this strong level of job attachment can be a double-edged sword for care workers, says the Foundation, as it leaves workers with little labour market power with which to demand better pay and conditions.

To pay for the higher social care wage floor will require higher spending and taxation in the public sector, and higher prices in the private sector, says the Foundation.

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