Government must fund £10.50 social care minimum wage, urge migration advisers

Lack of public funding at root of undervaluing of care work, says Migration Advisory Committee in call for at least £2bn a year to boost pay in England

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The UK government must fully fund the introduction of a £10.50-an-hour minimum wage for adult social care care workers in England, its migration advisers have urged.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said a lack of public funding – leading to inadequate pay and conditions – was behind the significant recruitment and retention difficulties the sector faced.

While a £10.50 minimum wage – at a cost of at least £2.1bn to the public purse – was necessary, it was not sufficient, the MAC said in a government-commissioned report on adult social care and immigration.

“We would…strongly emphasise that an increase of this magnitude is not enough to address the issues presented by low pay in the sector and urge the government to go significantly further as quickly as possible,” the report said.

The MAC’s call comes amid a worsening workforce situation for adult social care, with vacancies hitting 10% in March of this year, up from 5.9% in May 2021, and the number of filled posts down 4.6% on March 2021 levels.

Impact of ending freedom of movement

The government commissioned the MAC to carry out a review of the impact of ending free movement of people from Europe and its replacement with a so-called “points-based immigration system” for skilled workers, introduced in December 2020.

This initially prevented care workers from coming from abroad to work in social care in the UK on health and care worker (H&CW) visas, though permitted some senior care workers on relatively high pay to do so. The government then expanded the route to more senior care workers, in March 2021, and opened it to care workers, on an interim basis, from February 2022, so long as they earned at least £10.10 an hour.

The current salary threshold excludes half of care worker roles and two-thirds of senior care worker roles, though the MAC found 9,000 senior care staff had been sponsored by employers to come through the skilled worker route as of February 2022. It also pointed out that dependants or partners of UK citizens or other migrants, who do not require a health and care worker visa, were an important source of labour for the sector.

The MAC urged further action to ease immigration requirements including making permanent the availability of H&CW visas for care workers and removing ongoing charges for employers using the route.

‘Years of underfunding’

However, while it found the ending of freedom of movement had contributed to staff shortages, the sector’s workforce problems predated this and were “the result of years of policy decisions not to fund the social care system properly”.

As a result, the sector has not been able to respond to rising vacancies and turnover by raising pay to attract more staff to work in the sector.

This has seen adult social care’s average pay advantage over competing occupations – such as retail and hospitality – fall from 5% in 2011 to 1% in 2021.

While adult social care has benefited from successive above-inflation rises in the national minimum wage and national living wage – which now applies to those aged 23 and above – this has led to a significant compression of wages in the sector.

Little reward for experience or progression

In 2020-21, care workers with more than five years’ experience were paid just 6p an hour more than those with less than one year’s experience, down from between 26p and 37p prior to 2017 and 12p in 2019-20, found Skills for Care’s annual state of the workforce report last year.

The MAC also found that senior care workers earned just 74p an hour more on average than care workers, despite additional responsibilities that sometimes involved leading teams.

This was in marked contrast to the NHS, where the Agenda for Change system set out a well-defined career and pay progression path. This was a particular issue for nurses, who could work in either sector, and among whom vacancies in adult social care are running at 18%.

Minimum pay rates

In Scotland and Wales, the respective governments have funded minimum pay rates for care staff above the £9.50-an-hour national living wage. These are, currently, £10.50 and £9.90 an hour, respectively, applying to staff in publicly-funded care roles in Scotland, and registered direct care staff and personal assistants in Wales.

The MAC said the UK government should follow suit and fully finance immediately a £10.50 minimum for care staff funded through the public sector in England, saying this was a “prerequisite to attract and retain workers in social care”.

This would cost £2.1bn, if existing pay differentials were maintained. However, the MAC argued that differentials between staff needed to increase, to improve progression, and that the £10.50 minimum would need boosting “as quickly as possible”.

As well as improving pay rates, the MAC said care staff needed to be paid their hourly rate for travel time and sleep-in shifts. While the former should be paid in accordance with mininimum wage regulations, the committee found this was not always the case.

And while the Supreme Court ruled last year that care staff were not entitled to the minimum wage – or national living wage, as relevant – for time spent asleep, the MAC said not paying them their full rate for these hours “presents the potential for employees to be exploited and underpaid”.

Sector ‘losing staff in droves’

Sector bodies urged the government to implement the MAC’s core recommendations.

“Care employers are losing people in droves to warehouses, supermarkets and online retailers able to pay significantly more for less stressful work,” said UNISON head of social care Gavin Edwards.

“No bluster, no slogans, the government must adopt the MAC’s recommendations now, so the Cinderella care sector can attract the new recruits it needs and retain experienced staff too.”

The Homecare Association particularly welcomed the MAC’s call to remove immigration skills charges from providers employing care staff on the H&CW visa, while also backing its calls for increased funding to raise pay.

“Recruiting and retaining home care workers has never been more difficult,” said chief executive Jane Towson.

“After years of government under-investment in the sector, the removal of infection control funds, the rapid increase in the cost of living, the homecare sector is in a precarious state.

‘Staff burnt out, providers stretched’

“Care workers are burnt out from the past two years of providing care non-stop through the pandemic, and a proportion are leaving the sector entirely to hospitality and retail where jobs have higher pay rates and less responsibility. Providers have never been more stretched, waiting lists for homecare are at an all-time high and the true value of careworkers is becoming ever more apparent.”

In response to the report, a government spokesperson said: “We would like to thank the Migration Advisory Committee for their continued work on this area.

“This report calls for cross-Whitehall consideration including on funding for social care, pay, conditions and workforce strategy, alongside immigration policy.

“The government will consider the MAC’s recommendations carefully and respond in due course.”

12 Responses to Government must fund £10.50 social care minimum wage, urge migration advisers

  1. Alice April 29, 2022 at 10:58 am #

    Last time I looked at my payslip I wasn’t employed by the UK government? Are care homes owned by the State now?

    • Chris Sterry May 2, 2022 at 5:11 pm #

      No you are not employed by the Government, but your employer has to receive the money to pay you from somewhere and that is from the respective local Authorities, who are funded themselves by the Government. Hence the increase in your National Insurance from April 2022, however, most of the NI money received will be going to the NHS with only a pittance, if any to social care.

      All local authorities have, since 2010 had their funding substantially reduced due to the Government austerity cuts and then 2 years of increased costs due to COVID.

      Social care has always been significantly underfunded, mainly due to all previous governments refusing to fund social care substantially.

      £10.50 per hour would be a significant increase as many care worker are only on the National Living Wage of £9.50 or maybe the real Living Wage of £9.9- per hour.

      But, when workers can earn around £14 per hour at supermarkets even £10.10 is no real incentive, especially when all the responsibilities of caring are taken into account.

      But salary is but one aspect others will be, not recognising Bank Holidays, travel allowances, no sick pay and many others.

      Caring is a very responsible occupation if done correctly, which, unfortunately is not always so.

      The other problem is that many just believe that care workers only look after the elderly in care homes, which is also not correct, as many children and other adults receive social care within home care, supported living, hospices, respite services and others.

      The lack of substantial funding by the Government and the restrictive immigration policies they introduced have contributed to the insufficiency in the quantity of persons coming into the caring profession, which is also a factor affecting the quality of care.

      This Government needs to do very much more to alleviate the problems in social care, before social care completely disintegrates. The worse social care gets it will heap many more problems on the NHS causing even more funding to be required, so this Governments needs to look after social care and not just ignore it.

      • Alice May 3, 2022 at 8:52 am #

        The difference is that I am employed by a local authority and thus a public sector worker. My employer does not make a profit to pay out as a dividend. Why should the tax payer pay the wages of workers employed by often debt loaded off shore based companies that put all the risks and costs on the public purse but expect to retain 100% of the profit for their shareholders? I agree that the government needs to properly fund social care. This us why I advocate all care provisions being publicly owned. Make me a stakeholder and I’d gladly pay my tax to fund it. Privatising the profit while nationalising the risk is hardly something to advocate for.

        • Alan May 7, 2022 at 1:38 pm #

          They don’t keep all of the profit though, they pay tax. Oh hang on, offshore you say?

  2. Nollie April 29, 2022 at 2:32 pm #

    Stealing the wealth and labour of the developing world is the go to default for “liberal democracies” but to see it supported by supposedly enlightened and compassion driven public bodies is a dispiriting spectacle. The question should not be about the tax payer paying the wages private profiteers should be paying their workers but why these jobs have no takers from our citizens even with unemployment going above half a million. Poverty and war as a driver for recruitments is an ugly ideology. Shame on those who on other topics would shout the loudest about their anti-racism and human rights activism. In my book that’s called opportunism and preserving privilege.

  3. Jonathan May 3, 2022 at 9:04 am #

    Recruitment companies sponsoring Social Worker of the Year while draining local authorities of much needed funds for temporary staff is hardly something to celebrate. What’s the equvilant in social work for Sports Washing?

  4. Alison May 3, 2022 at 6:59 pm #

    If employers in all parts of the care sector find it so difficult to even pay workers the National Living Wage, a misnomer befitting the neo-liberal mindset, without needing a handout from the tax payers, it begs the question whay they are in the sector. It can’t surely be altruism?

  5. Berni May 4, 2022 at 3:24 pm #

    I agree with many of the feedback comments . Why is care ran for profit which then in turn has to be improved by the tax payer so the same profit making companies can continue to make money .

    It is time to have the care profession professionalised formally with accredited training at college and have different bands just like nurses as its not just care , but health issues , mobility issues , medication provision and palliative care in any one area of specialism .

    Your pay should rise as your experience and qualification does .

    We need to reshape the identity of those who do a brilliant job and put it towards something more positive and acclaiming . I have heard ” I am only a carer ” a million times this needs to change .Yes , you should get paid more and no it should not be with a profit first company .

    Its in the social care Act , LAs could form a new organisation to develop something which I might call the carers guild , get the training started develop people and then get people hired at good rates .As a start it could operate as an ancillary service whilst being developed and when working leave it to be a non profit ran by someone ethical who only takes a reasonable management fee .

    This could be a training and hiring hub for social care/children’s care and other areas .

    Why LAs are looking for government to tell them what to do is beyond me .

    I have worked in the community for some time and this is the same argument that has been in effect since Mrs Thatcher was at the head of the tory party .

    Just my thoughts – but I am getting way fed up hearing it . How can you fund the NHS with a whopper of an increase and nothing for social care when all of our beds are being blocked because people cannot get out of hospital if they need care .

    Oh great , what a fantastic use of more tax payers money .

    • Sandy May 9, 2022 at 7:32 am #

      Don’t buy into the NHS getting a “whopper of an increase” at the expense of social care propaganda. It’s truly shameful that social care leaders are perpetuating that lie too. What is happening to the NHS is precisely what, from the Blair government on, they did to social care. In my local hospital a poor patient who was being taken for an x-ray was injured by plaster falling off the ceiling. Hospitals all over the country are crumbling and staffing levels remain inadequate leading to record increases in waiting lists month on month. The Tories are privatising the NHS by a thousand cuts. NHS and social care are on the same trajectory of profit first provision, don’t let them divide us by perpetuating their lies.

  6. Carol May 4, 2022 at 3:48 pm #

    Chris is right, the salary is only one aspect of what is wrong with the social care sector which I believe should all be under the NHS in this country.

    I work as a domiciliary carer and one of the many problems is that the local authority/ social services are ‘penny pinching’ all the time. Care is not centred on an individual’s needs but on the tasks to be done and how quickly they must be done. It is very rare that you will be an hour at a call , the longest time being 45 minutes. The majority of calls are 30 and 15 minutes and in most of those calls you also have the responsibility of giving medication. There is no travel time so in actual fact most carers are told to take 5 minutes of the allocated call time to travel to the next call. Quite honestly it can be absolutely crazy at what you are expected to do in 25 minutes. Two weekends off a month if you are lucky and only 2 days leave allowed at Christmas is also no incentive to remain in this type of work plus the stress levels of carers is so high which is why so many choose to leave .

    An increase in social care minimum wage is not addressing the real problems facing Adult Social Care.

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