Engage: Time to fairly pay selfless care workers delivering maximum impact under extraordinary circumstances

The crucial role that social care plays in our country has never been more visible.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen brave individuals doing everything in their power to support people who were frequently in the highest risk categories for Covid-19, keeping them safe, well and happy in unprecedented circumstances. Their selfless actions saved lives in the most extraordinary of circumstances, often at great personal risk to themselves and their loved ones.

Yet these dedicated heroes, who typically view what they do as a vocation rather than just a job, are shockingly amongst the lowest paid individuals in society.

Persistent restrictions on social care funding mean that many people will often be paid significantly more for working in a supermarket or a fast-food restaurant, compared to those who have the unenviable personal responsibilities of delivering care. Colleagues like ours have been the final line of defence between the COVID-19 crisis for vulnerable communities that we all feared. This is a minimum wage sector delivering a maximum impact.

In the months before the pandemic, people working in social care were labelled as ‘low skilled’ by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Government funding has dictated that they are afforded the lowest possible reward, in complete disregard of the levels of skill and commitment they display in their roles, and failing to account for significant accountability and pressure that often comes with delivering care and support.

Care sector funding has abused the goodwill of those who have a vocation for making a difference and told them that their work is of the lowest possible value. In fact, the average pay for support workers in England who assist people to live independently in the community is just £17,695 or £9.05 per hour – 45p below the Real Living Wage.

For years we have watched in despair as the situation has become more and more grave. We have lobbied for greater pay, arguing the moral case for a Real Living Wage for our workers. But we knew that we had to do something more. We had to take definitive action that proved, once and for all, the frontline support workers’ true worth.

We needed concrete figures. So, Community Integrated Care commissioned Korn Ferry, the global experts in job role evaluations, to undertake an in-depth analysis of this position, objectively assessing its true value across sectors.

We fully expected the disparity between what support workers are currently paid and what they should be paid to be alarming. But when we were presented with the research, even those of us at the very heart of social care were shocked. The findings were even worse than we’d suspected.

Korn Ferry’s research found that roles with equivalent scope, complexity and accountability within other public funded sectors are, on average, paid at £24,602.

The gap is even greater in the sector’s counterpart – the NHS – where average take home pay for equivalent jobs is £25,142. That’s an astounding £7447, or 42%, greater than social care workers currently earn.

In addition, the research found that, far from being ‘low-skilled’, modern-day care workers have to be highly-skilled in order to provide the particularly complex levels of care needed by those we support. Those who depend on us have a wide range of medical and behavioural needs, from dementia to acquired brain injuries, and the carers who care for them take on an exceptional level of personal accountability. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the position was found to be significantly undervalued.

The full research has now been published in Community Integrated Care’s report, Unfair to Care (www.unfairtocare.co.uk, which also outlines the shocking personal crises that workers across the sector are living with due to low pay. These include mental health challenges, homelessness and family breakdowns.

The report calls for the Government to provide an immediate and fair pay rise to all frontline social care workers. It also demands the urgent implementation of a social care workforce strategy, in which all roles should be benchmarked in order to ensure the pay is on a par with that of other public funded sectors.

But pay is just one element of the much-needed solution. The report also recommends creating a framework in which social care can be seen as a progressive career option; one which includes a greater emphasis on training and development and career progression. This new framework should have a focus on diversity and inclusion, greater investment in mental health support, professional registration and schemes that reward and recognise outstanding work.

Yes, this is a challenge. But it’s not an insurmountable one. It’s also a challenge to which we have to rise, recognising that social care contributes £46bn to the UK economy every year and that there is currently overwhelming public support for investment in the sector.

We cannot ignore the impact of this crisis.

Community Integrated Care has a Wellbeing Fund for colleagues experiencing financial distress. Their stories are heart-breaking; from one man who couldn’t afford to pay for his father’s funeral to another who struggled to cope financially when he had to have an eyesight-saving operation.

It is a cruel irony that these very people without whom society would literally not be able to manage are, when it comes to staying above the breadline, struggling to manage themselves.

Social care employers do what we can, but our own hands are tied, bound by the ever-decreasing budgets awarded to cash-strapped councils by central government, able only to pay our employees what is afforded to us by the local authorities.

As a result, social care workers often find they have no choice but to find alternative, better paid work. They’re leaving in their droves, with the sector losing a third of its employees every year and having 112,000 vacancies at present. That staggering shortage is a debilitating figure in any sector, but felt more keenly in an area where each of these vacancies directly impacts a person in need of care.

This huge turnover has a devastating effect on those accessing care, who, each time a staff member leaves, have to deal with the loss of a relationship which, in many cases, has become an important one within their lives.

We all remember the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s 2019 declaration to fix ‘the crisis in social care once and for all’. Yet, two years on, we appear to be no closer to that point than we were pre-pandemic. If anything, the combined outcomes of Brexit and Covid have left the sector in a worse position than ever before.

This huge injustice can continue no longer. Action must be taken now. Or we risk crippling a sector that is already on its knees.

About The Author

Mark Adams is Chief Executive Officer at Community Integrated Care, a position he has held since 2017. Prior to that, Mark successfully designed and launched an innovative healthcare management business, Anglo Arabian Healthcare (AAH). Comprising an integrated network of 40 clinics, diagnostic centres, hospitals and pharmacies, AAH also included state-of-the-art greenfield hospitals and pioneering secondary care facilities dedicated to women’s health and medical oncology.