Care worker pay falls behind that of retail staff and cleaners, as turnover continues to mount

Pay progression minimal for care staff as employers concentrate pay rises at the lowest end in response to rises in minimum wages, shows latest Skills for Care state of workforce report

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Care worker pay has fallen behind that of retail staff and cleaners over the past eight years, Skills for Care’s annual report on the state of the adult social care workforce has shown.

The workforce development body found that, while care workers earned more than retail assistants, cleaners, hairdressers, catering assistants and launderers in 2012-13, they had fallen behind the first two and seen the gap close with the latter two by 2019-20.

How care worker pay compares to other sectors

(source: Skills for Care, the state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England 2020)

The figures illustrate the competition faced by social care employers from other lower-paid sectors in recruiting and retaining staff. Howewver, the figures date from March 2020, since when many of the other sectors have been badly hit by the coronavirus lockdown.

Lack of pay progression

The report also illustrated the lack of pay progression in the sector, with care workers with at least five years’ experience earning just 12p an hour more than those with less than one year in the role.

This has been driven by the introduction of the national living wage for over-25s in 2016 and significant increases in it since then, resulting in employers having to concentrate wage increases at the bottom end of the pay distribution with less left over for those earning above the statutory minimum.

Skills for Care said that, from 2016-20, pay for the lowest-paid tenth of care workers rose by 13.1%, while those for the top-paid tenth climbed by just 5.2%. At the same time the proportion of workers earning the statutory minimum rose from 16% to 23%.

Turnover continues to rise

The longstanding trend of increasing turnover continued into 2020, with the average rate for all job roles in the independent and local authority sectors rising to 31.9% in 2019-20, up from 30.7% in 2018-19 and 21.7% in 2012-13. Among care workers, turnover reached 38.1%, continuing a long upward trend since 2012-13, when the figure stood at 26.7%.

While the workforce development body said that two-thirds of staff were recruited from within the sector, retaining skills and experience, the situation meant that “a large proportion of employers were going through the recruitment process at any one time, with workers moving between employers with high regularity, and at considerable cost to employers”.

The vacancy rate fell by 0.3 percentage points in 2019-20, to 7.3%, the first fall in eight years, with some evidence that it has fallen further since March 2020, under the impact of the pandemic. For those employers who had updated their details on Skills for Care’s Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set, vacancy rates fell from 8.6% pre-Covid-19 to 7% from March to August 2020.

However, staff sickness rose during this time for these employers, with 7.5% of days lost to sickness between March and August, compared with 2.7% pre-Covid.

Growing clamour for pay hike

The report comes amid a growing clamour from sector leaders for an enhanced pay settlement for adult social care staff – both to tackle longstanding recruitment and retention challenges and in recognition of workers’ service during the pandemic.

An advisory group to the government’s Social Care Sector Covid-19 Support Taskforce called last month for a new pay structure for social care, on a par with the NHS, to be implemented before the end of the financial year. Meanwhile, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has urged government to bring in a national care wage, above the current statutory national living wage.

The government is yet to respond to these calls though is expected to consider social care pay as part of its long-awaited reform of adult social care, promised in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto.

Respondents to Skills for Care’s report also made calls for significant pay hikes for staff.

UNISON’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said: “The government must end the care crisis by showing it’s ready to end a bargain-basement service that puts profits above care and treats staff like numbers on a spreadsheet.

“The UK urgently needs a fully funded national care service with fair pay, extensive training and a proper career structure for its dedicated workforce.”

Better pay, training and progression needed

King’s Fund senior fellow Simon Bottery said: “The vacancy rate in social care has been stubbornly high for several years, with well over 110,000 posts now vacant across the sector. A key reason for that is pay, which is now lagging behind other sectors including retail and cleaning.

“The average pay increase for care workers last year was just 26p an hour in real terms. The sector relies on the dedication of skilled, caring individuals working hard through increasingly challenging conditions, but with so many vacancies this is neither fair nor sustainable.

“While a recession may reduce vacancies in the short term, the job requires a growing, skilled and dedicated staff to provide quality care. The sector will need over 500,000 more staff by 2035, so the longer term solution must be a better paid and trained staff with real career progression. That in turn requires the funding and other reforms that social care has long been promised.”

Impact of Brexit immigration changes

The report also considered the impact of the government’s post-Brexit immigration system – due to come into force in January 2021 – on the social care workforce. From that point onwards, people will be barred from entering the UK to take up jobs as care workers, closing off the current free movement route of citizens from the European Economic Area (consisting of the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liectenstein) and Switzerland.

As things stand, people will also be all but barred from taking up roles as senior care workers, though the government is considering a proposal from its Migration Advisory Committee to place the role on its shortage occupation list, which would enable people from abroad to take up higher-paid senior care roles.

The European Union has been an increasing source of staff for the social care sector, making up 8% of the total in 2019-20, up from 5% in 2012-13.

Under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme, staff from the EEA or Switzerland who have been continuously resident in the UK for five years as of the end of this year will have the right to apply for settled status, enabling them to stay indefinitely. Those with fewer years’ residence are able to apply for pre-settled status, enabling them to stay until they reach the five-year threshold, at which point they can apply for settled status.

Skills for Care estimated that 19% of workers of EU nationality in the sector were already British citizens, 51% were likely to be eligible for settled status and 30% for pre-settled status.

Gender and racial disparities

The report also revealed significant gender and racial disparities in relation to progression to management roles. While female staff made up 82% of all job roles, they accounted for an estimated 67% of those senior management positions.

Black Asian and minority ethnic staff made up 21% of roles, but 17% of senior management and 15% of registered manager positions, though they accounted for 38% of registered nurses and 27% of social workers.

Representation was particularly high among Black staff, who accounted for 12% of job roles across the sector, compared with 3% of the population, though the level of diversity varied significantly across the country, with staff from Black and ethnic minority groups making up 3% of roles in the North East and 66% in London.

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6 Responses to Care worker pay falls behind that of retail staff and cleaners, as turnover continues to mount

  1. Abigail Norman October 21, 2020 at 10:48 am #

    Care sector is made up of disparate range of private providers so its absurd to compare it to the National Health Service and expect similar pay and conditions. Who is negotiating with say HC-One on pay and conditions? As ever ADASS is urging the government to solve pay and recruitment problems rather than pressuring these providers to treat their staff, note not employees as majority of them are on zero hours contracts, decently. I am really baffled by why ADASS resolutely refuses to engage in a real discussion about the problems in this sector, namely that the basis of care home provision is profit and dividend payments driven rather than staff focused. ADASS, campaign for permanent employment contracts, fair pay, training and union recognition if you are serious about improving care standards or continue to impotently whistle the tune of hedge funds.

  2. Chris Sterry October 21, 2020 at 11:44 am #

    It is good to see all the areas now taking up the cause of Care Workers pay, with the exception of the Government, but while pay is a major problem it is not the only one.

    Yes, reference is made to staffing, staff recruitment and staff retention, which is currently, far from good and will only become worse from January 2021 with the introduction and impact of the government’s post-Brexit immigration system. We were promised by the Government that they would consider including the care professions as an exception, but that, again, is another broken Government promise.

    It may be better to list the promises that have not been broken rather than those that were broken. That is easy because it is none.

    This Government has shown contempt for the care profession, except for NHS workers to some extent, and even more contempt for those who they care for. The current state of play with the benefit system is a case in point.

    I honestly feel that this is a Government conspiracy, to kill off people in care, for how they dealt with hospital discharges re COVID-19, to care homes is a proven point. Even with the hindsight, they appear to be considering something similar now, what more can be said.

    This Government is extremely despicable, as they treat social care and people in need of social care as not being required and inhuman respectively.

    This Government does not know the meaning of care and caring, perhaps, because they feel they will never have need of it.

    As this Government is this way, I created the petition, Solve the crisis in Social care,

    Should further information be required please see,!Aq2MsYduiazgoCxbqKkiEprEdBum?e=W9Zc4g

  3. Stephen Giles October 21, 2020 at 11:48 pm #

    Actually the Government does understand the need for social care, some them have shares in the companies. It’s just that they want individuals to wholely pay for it through their savings or preferably from private insurance premiums.They have the votes, they have the arrogance and with the complicity of ADASS they will get there.

  4. Andy October 22, 2020 at 9:55 pm #

    Caring for elderly and younger vulnerable people in residential or day care settings is a tough job which has deserved better remuneration and employment conditions for many years. With decent pay and conditions (and training), there would be no trouble in attracting local staff. Has Britain become completely incapable of providing sufficient care staff from within its own borders? Why is Britain exploiting the valulable employment resources of poorer European nations?

  5. Jacenta October 23, 2020 at 11:20 am #

    That’s how Empire’s work Andy. Lets once more ‘celebrate’ the social workers enabobled by our Crown. Nothing like forgetting exploitation home and around the world when an MBE or indeed a BEM is bestowed as an Honour.

  6. Mildred October 25, 2020 at 9:15 pm #

    Britain does provide care staff, it’s just that when you look at us, you see a foreigner because of our “tinge” or accents and not the citizens we are.