Leading charity for older people Age UK has called for care workers to have pay parity with the NHS.
In a major new report, Age UK revealed that despite providing a vital, life enhancing service, care workers earned 24p an hour less than shop assistants.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “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.”
The charity said the average salary of the 1.65m strong workforce amounted to just £15,000, or half the UK average.
In further findings, four in five social care workers said their mental health had been damaged during the pandemic, with 42% saying the government had not done enough to support their mental health.
One in ten said they had colleagues who had continued to work despite having COVID-19 symptoms, with 8% of workers survey by Unison saying they would receive no pay at all if they had to self-isolate or were off sick.
One in four frontline workers were unable to work as of the end of March with providers losing 6.35m extra days to sickness in March and July, more than twice the usual figure.
More than half (54%) said they were paid less than the National Living Wage of £8.72. The Real Living Wage was increased to £9.50 today.
As wells as care workers achieving pay parity with the NHS, the report calls for improved learning and development for workers and ensuring the new immigration system allows for overseas workers to enter the country easily to work in the sector.
The charity also urged the government to support the physical and mental health of care staff as the NHS has done with its People Plan and to publish a workforce plan addressing minimum staff ratios and how to increase recruitment.
Age UK also called on the government to continue to ensure that PPE was readily available for care workers.
UNISON assistant general secretary and co-chair of the Future Social Care Coalition Christina McAnea, said: “These shocking findings are a wake-up call to government that enough is enough.
“Care staff can’t go on being ignored, undervalued and left to exist on poverty wages. A wage boost is needed now to get them through the pandemic and attract new recruits.
“A national care service would also bring about long overdue reform of the sector. It would drive up standards, boost pay and training and ensure the care service is put on an equal footing with the NHS.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful for the tireless efforts of all our care workers in the fight against coronavirus. Social care workers over 25 must be paid at least the National Living wage, which this year has seen the largest increase ever – putting an additional £930 into the pockets of over 2 million of the UK’s lowest paid.