think if you ask any long-term member of staff why we do the job we do, they will always reply it’s because of the service we provide,” says Sophie Jones*, a homecare worker. “It will never be about the pay rates or the wages we get.”
As a care worker, Jones visits the houses of people who need support, and provides care in their own home. This can include personal care, giving medication and monitoring nutrition. For this, she is being paid £7.20 an hour, the rate of the new national living wage which will come into force this April and effectively raises the minimum wage by 50p an hour for staff over the age of 25. But, due to lack of pay for travel time between home calls and for breaks, what she takes home works out as much less than this. This week, Jones says, she has worked five days, leaving the house at 6.30am and getting back at 10pm, and her pay has worked out around £5 an hour. In April, her company will raise her wage slightly – to £7.30 an hour – and money paid for driving between calls will increase by 5p a mile. But this isn’t enough to raise her actual wages to the level of the current minimum wage, let alone the new one.
For Benjamin Awojobi*, the introduction of the new wage will mean a salary increase. He is a care support worker currently paid at the minimum wage, so his pay will rise by 50p an hour. But he says it won’t make any difference to his income: “You won’t even notice that your salary has increased by 50p, because 50p is not significant.” In fact, as his place of work will soon be introducing expensive car parking charges, any pay rise will be wiped out. Awojobi, who is working while studying for a master’s degree in social work, says the big contribution made by support workers is not recognised: “We are giving a lot and we are getting absolutely nothing. In a nutshell, the 50p increase is just nothing.”
Poor pay in social care has long been a contentious issue. Wages for care and support staff are low, and there are issues around companies not paying for training time, using insecure zero-hours contracts, and not paying travel time to homecare workers like Jones.
The national living wage, announced by chancellor George Osborne in his post-election budget in July 2015, was marketed as a way to give Britain a pay rise. But the private and not-for-profit companies who run care homes and homecare services say that they do not get enough money to pay their staff at this level. “This new initiative will have a serious impact on the care sector if it is not funded properly and we will see many services close,” says Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents independent care providers.
Care companies have for years been reporting that local authorities do not pay them enough to run a profitable service. For state-funded clients, services will be commissioned by the local authority to provide care. But due to cuts – councils have sliced £4.6bn off adult social care budgets since 2009–10 – they squeeze the amount they pay to providers. “The government has behaved disgracefully in that it has not allocated enough money to social care to deal with the immediate consequences of the new [national] living wage,” says Green. “They are completely abdicating their responsibilities in this area and saying it is up to local authorities.”
Green does acknowledge that the new wage “is a good thing for care workers and the care sector ought to pay its staff significantly more than the living wage. However, this is not possible where some local authorities [are] paying as little as £2.31 an hour to care for vulnerable people in the latter stages of their life”.
There are few who would deny that care staff deserve to be paid a decent wage for the demanding job they do. But while the national living wage may superficially raise the hourly rate that workers are paid, it could worsen the other issues they face (zero-hours contracts, 15-minute visits and lack of pay for travel time), due to the financial difficulties faced by providers. The new wage won’t apply [pdf] to about 11% of the workforce who are aged below 25. And, if Green is correct, it could lead to more employers closing.
Both Jones and Awojobi say the new wage won’t make much of a difference. “I feel the wages need to reflect the job we do. I deal daily with individuals and their needs … and have studied to gain qualifications in this area,” says Jones. “But if I worked in Costa Coffee and served coffee for a living I would [be paid more] per hour.”