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.
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.