Average care worker earns less than over 80% of wider workforce

Sector in 'absolute crisis', warns think-tank, as latest workforce data shows real-terms pay down for care staff amid mounting inflation and vacancy rate

Home care worker speaking to older person

More than 80% of jobs in the wider economy pay more than the average independent care worker wage, Skills for Care revealed today in its annual report on the workforce.

NHS healthcare assistants new to their roles are earning £1 an hour more than the average independent care worker, while the hourly wage gap between new and experienced care staff was just 7p, as of March 2022.

Though employers increased wages in cash terms by 5.4% in 2021-22 – the second highest annual rise since 2012-13 – this was outstripped by inflation, meaning the average care working in the independent sector saw their pay fall by 1.5% during the year.

With inflation having got worse since March of this year, rising from 7% to 9.9% in August, the situation is likely to have deteriorated.

Key pay data

  • £9.50 an hour was the median wage for care staff in the independent sector in England as of March 2022.
  • 80% of jobs in the wider economy were paid more than £9.92 an hour.
  • £10.50 was the average pay for an NHS healthcare assistant who was new to their role.
  • 7p was the hourly pay gap between new care workers and those with five years’ experience in the independent sector.
  • 1.5% was the real-terms drop in pay in the independent sector from March 2021-22.

Source: The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England (Skills for Care, 2022)

This was the backdrop to the 52% (55,000) rise in vacancies, to 165,000, accompanied by 50,000 fall in the number of filled posts in the adult social care sector in England in 2021-22, which Skills for Care revealed in July.

It said this showed the fall in filled posts was down to employers struggling to recruit and retain staff, rather than any drop in demand for care, which has continued to rise.

‘Absolute crisis’

In response to Skills for Care’s state of the adult social care sector and workforce report, the King’s Fund said it was “evidence of the absolute crisis social care faces when trying to recruit staff, a crisis that has profound consequences for people needing care”.

Senior fellow Simon Bottery cited the think-tank’s recent analysis that almost 400,000 care staff in the independent sector would be better off leaving to work in a supermarket.

He attributed the situation to a “sustained lack of funding has left us with an adult social care system that is failing the people who rely on it” – in the shape of poor-quality care and unmet need – “as well as the people who work in it”.

Bottery said the sector needed a “better paid and trained workforce with real career progression”, backed by sustainable funding and a long-term workforce plan.

‘Wages are too low’

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Put simply, wages are much too low. The social care sector won’t get back on its feet and deliver the support needed by millions if it can’t pay the rates needed to attract, keep and promote experienced care workers.”

She said that required “grown-up decisions on funding”, without which the mounting backlog in the NHS will never be cleared.

Skills for Care’s chief executive said its report demonstrated the need for a “step change in how it values social care and the great people who provide it”.

The workforce development body said the government needed to implement its commitments to improve the training, development and wellbeing of care staff, backed by £500m from 2022-25, set out in a white paper last year.

At the same time, it said the sector needed a workforce plan which “identifies the numbers, skills mix and innovations in delivery that are needed to meet growing demand and prioritises staff recognition, value and reward”.

‘Poor commissioning practices’

In its response, the Homecare Association warned that “poor commissioning practices” by local authorities and the NHS were driving low pay in a sector where the vacancy rate, at 13.2%, was higher than the social care average (10.7%).

“Low fee rates from councils and the NHS, and poor commissioning practices lead directly to homecare workers experiencing poor pay and terms and conditions of employment, said its chief executive, Jane Townson.

“Zero-hour commissioning leads to zero-hour contracts for homecare workers. In turn, this leads to income insecurity. Many homecare workers are not paid if, for example, the person they are supporting is admitted to hospital, or if they have to isolate after a positive COVID-19 test result.”

She said that staff were also feeling the effects of high fuel costs, adding: “Collectively, they travel an estimated 4 million miles per day and many simply cannot afford to fill their tanks, so are moving to jobs that don’t require driving.”

The shortages were leading to providers not taking on new clients or handing back contracts, leading ot unmet need, she added.

More recruitment from abroad

In response to the report, the government cited its white paper commitments, along with a further £500m allocated to social care this winter to speed up hospital discharge and boost the workforce.

A spokesperson also pointed to the impact of the government’s decision to add care workers to its shortage occupation list, implemented at the start of the year, making it easier for employers to recruit staff from abroad.

They said that “tens of thousands of extra staff” have joined the social care workforce since this happened, while the government had also provided £15m to help employers recruit staff from overseas.

It also planned to launch a domestic recruitment campaign shortly, the spokesperson added.

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5 Responses to Average care worker earns less than over 80% of wider workforce

  1. Linda October 11, 2022 at 10:14 am #

    I find it perplexing, that with the knowledge that social care is desperately trying to recruit and retain staff, such a damaging report is published. Not all private companies pay the minimum wage or pay contact time. There are plenty of us who pay above the minimum wage, and pay shift pay and our carers certainly do not live in poverty. But we are not mentioned, only the negative is written. How are we going to recruit and retain when such a pessimistic report is published. While I understand figures being published, just to focus on negative aspects is extremely disheartening and damaging to social care.

  2. Julia Abadi October 12, 2022 at 4:20 pm #

    I am always puzzled as to why we think the private sector is in the best interests of anyone other than the company and their shareholders. If we could cut out the middlemen, there would surely be increased money to pay directly to the carers.
    I have done care work prior to becoming a social worker and know that the work, hours and responsibility is way above the money I received. I saw the invoices to the private clients which was frustrating, as the workers were receiving a small part of that, and they are basically subsidising the social clients. The while system needs to be reorganised.

  3. Sofiane Bounoua October 14, 2022 at 3:49 pm #

    Carers deserve to be rewarded, valued, respected & supported for the incredible work that they do. The Home care workforce has never been more important.

  4. M. Morgan November 9, 2022 at 8:32 am #

    What can I say as a Social Care worker for Specific health support. The pay rate is absolutely DISGUSTING and cannot be defended. Trained and qualified workers getting paid peanuts.


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