The adult social care sector should adopt a minimum wage that is higher than the national requirement to address understaffing in care homes, a think tank has recommended.
With more than one in ten social care positions unfilled and the number of trained social care nurses declining, the Resolution Foundation argues that the sector should raise the wage floor to £2 above the national minimum wage.
In a report, titled ‘Who Cares?’, the Resolution Foundation found that social care staff are now paid well below the national average and are even frequently being paid below the minimum wage.
The average hourly pay of a frontline care worker in England stood at £10.90 in 2022, well below the economy-wide average of £14.47. The report also highlighted that since 2011 social care workers had lost a pay ‘premium’ that they had previously commanded over other low paid jobs.
In 2011, the Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the government, found that the average care worker’s hourly pay was 5 per cent higher than other low-paid jobs. By 2021, that differential had fallen to just 1 per cent.
However, despite low pay, the report also found that social care workers are less likely to leave the sector even when they quit their roles. The researchers found through focus groups that this may be due to social care workers viewing their work as a vocation and being strongly attached to their roles.
Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: Social care workers fulfil a skilled and hugely necessary role in our society, and make a real difference to people’s lives. That’s why they love their jobs more than other low-paid workers do.
‘But the danger is this sense of vocation and commitment comes with a high price, including unlawful under-payment of the minimum wage and unsafe working conditions for some.’
The report notes that more workers leave the sector this only means more pressure and less compensation for the staff who remain.
The report’s authors also pointed out domiciliary care workers are paid below minimum wage in real terms as they are not reimbursed for the long periods of time they spend traveling for work.
The average wage of a domiciliary care worker is £11.07. However, they can spend up to 20% of their time travelling, the which they are not paid for. This means that domiciliary workers are really paid £9.30 an hour on average, below the adult minimum wage, the Foundation suggested.
The Resolution Foundation argued that, in order to avoid understaffing that could affect the quality of care provided, the sector should raise the wage floor and pay staff for their travel time.
Mr Nye Cominetti added: ‘Addressing these problems isn’t cost-free but it is urgent given the chronic shortage of care workers. Improving working conditions in the care sector is the only route to making it more attractive for new recruits and giving our ageing society the level of care it deserves.’