Three-quarters of England’s care workers earn below ‘real’ living wage | Care workers

Almost three-quarters of frontline care workers in England are earning below the “real” living wage, which experts say is the bare minimum to allow families basics such as a secondhand car and a week’s annual UK self-catering holiday, research has revealed.

The proportion of care workers below the threshold is even higher in northern areas, where care homes have been hit hardest by Covid-19. In the north-east, 82% of care staff earned less than the England-wide real living wage of £9.50 per hour, while the proportion was 78% in the north-west. One care worker in Lancashire earning £8.72 per hour who recently had her pay cut told the Guardian some colleagues have been using food banks.

The figures apply to more than 832,000 frontline care workers, more than 600,000 of whom are earning below the minimum thresholds.

In Hillingdon, the borough that contains Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip parliamentary constituency, more than 3,000 care workers earn so little that if they are the main breadwinner in a family of four with their partner on similar wages, they could not afford the £112 a week they require for food, according to analysis by Loughborough University that underpins real living wage calculation. When Johnson was London mayor he supported the London living wage campaign as “making economic sense”.

The figures were calculated by the Living Wage Foundation and come amid growing calls for reform of the social care sector to create parity with the NHS, where all nurses earn above the threshold.

On Thursday, Jeremy Hunt, the chairman of the Commons health and social care committee, called for a 10-year funding plan for social care akin to the national consensus that established the NHS in 1948. New polling revealed 82% of the public now back government investment in social care to fund a pay rise for care workers according to new polling by Survation for Citizens UK.

Care England, which represents the major private providers, singled out government funding as the reason for low pay. “The way in which social care is funded makes it impossible for care providers to pay what our valued staff are truly worth,” said Martin Green, its chief executive.

The real living wage is calculated based on public consultation about necessities and analysis of the cost of living. It differs from the statutory national living wage which is currently £8.72 per hour for people aged 25 and over. In London only 10% of care workers earn more than £10.85 per hour, which is the threshold in the capital adjusted for the higher cost of housing and transport.

“They’ve put their lives on the line caring for others during this pandemic, so it’s essential we ensure they earn enough to look after their own families,” said Laura Gardiner, the director of the Living Wage Foundation. “The real living wage is the only UK wage rate based on what it costs to live. It ensures workers and their families can meet everyday needs – things like a surprise dentist trip and a new school uniform for growing kids.”

Carole Thompson, 52, a care worker in Lancashire who earns the statutory minimum of £8.72 per hour despite having an NVQ level 3 diploma, said she felt “angry” at the pay rates. At work she has sole responsibility for three vulnerable adults and their medication.

Carole Thompson, 52, a care worker in Lancashire. Photograph: Handout

In April, at the peak of the pandemic, her rate for sleeping overnight was cut from £73 to £43 in “an insult for staff who were dealing with Covid”, she said.

“There’s overwhelming public support for a pay rise for care staff,” said Christina McAnea, the assistant general secretary of Unison, a trade union which represents care workers. “These workers do a skilled job looking after the elderly and disabled people. But many struggle on poverty wages despite their dedication during the pandemic.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.


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