Social care minister Helen Whately was unable to commit to improving pay for the social care workforce as she faced questions from the Health and Social Care Committee.
Asked if she would be ‘disappointed’ if there was not a significant pay increase for the social care workforce, Ms Whately told the committee that she did not want to be ‘drawn into saying something that is a very simple, black and white thing’.
While the minster said she did not want social care to be thought of as ‘a national living wage job’, she said that ‘fundamentally’ any pay above the minimum would be decided by employers.
Ms Whately instead highlighted her ambition ‘for the care workforce to be recognised and valued for the work that they do’ by creating more ‘opportunity for career progression in social care’.
The meeting was held on Tuesday May 2 between members of the Health and Social Care Committee and minister for social care about the reforming and funding of adult social care.
Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, said: ‘The average wage for our care staff is the minimum wage, at £10.42 an hour; if they had a job in the NHS evaluated as equivalent, they would be on £3,500 more.
‘Is it not time that we employed social care staff from across the sector on Agenda for Change terms and conditions?’
However, in response, Ms Whately dismissed the suggestion, and said the government was not ‘in a position to do that’ due to a lack of ‘agreed structure’ in social care and a lack of funding.
Reacting to the comments, chief executive of Care England Professor Martin Green, said: ‘The minister can only work within the financial envelope that she has been given by the Treasury. That said, Care England wants to work with her to ensure that there is a long-term and sustainable future for the care sector.’
Ms Whately also declined to commit the government to action over the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in the social care sector and over payment for travel time.
Across the UK, 54% of domiciliary workers and 24% of social care workers as a whole are on zero-hour, according to Ms Maskell.
Asked whether she could ‘see an end’ to these contracts, Ms Whately said she wanted to see ‘more care workers having the sort of contract they want, with guaranteed hours, should they wish’.
However, Ms Whately added: ‘Some staff genuinely have told me that they like having more flexibility.’
Likewise, the minister was told by Labour MP Paul Blomfield that some staff believe they are being paid below the national living wage because they are not paid for time spent travelling or waiting for patients.
Ms Whately said that staff could not simply be paid for the full day including travel time because of the ‘complicated model’ according to which staff are paid.
The minister added: ‘I want to be clear: people should, of course, be paid for all hours that they are working. There is no question about that. And people should always be paid over the national living wage. There is absolutely no question about that.’
This comes after it was announced that funding for the adult social care workforce would be halved.
Asked by the committee about why this had happened, Ms Whately said the government had ‘looked at the overall pot of money allocated to reform and asked what the best possible use for it is, in the light of the extra pressures on social care, the impact of inflation and the demand we are seeing’.