Nearly half of England’s care workers get less than real living wage, study finds

<span>Job vacancy rates in the social care sector are running at about 10%.</span><span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian</span>
Job vacancy rates in the social care sector are running at about 10%.Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Nearly half of all care workers in England earn less than a real living wage, according to research.

Analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) for the Living Wage Foundation found that 400,000 workers in social care (43% of the workforce) in England are paid less than £12 an hour, the amount required to cover living costs. In London the picture is even starker, with 80% of care workers paid less than £13.15, the London living wage.

In Scotland and Wales, social care workers earn at least the real living wage. With job vacancy rates running at about 10% and turnover almost double the average of other sectors, campaigners want all English care staff to have the same guarantees.

Matthew Bolton, the executive director of Citizens UK, a campaign group, said: “It’s not right that those caring for our loved ones when they need it most are barely surviving because of their low wages. This also has knock-on effects for the sector: staff turnover is high, the quality of care is compromised and morale is low. It simply can’t continue this way.

“We urge the next UK government to ensure all care workers are paid at least the real living wage and build on the example set by Scotland and Wales.”

The IPPR’s analysis shows it would cost £415m to pay all social care workers in England the real living wage, but as higher wages would generate extra income tax and national insurance revenues, it calculates that the total net cost to the next government would be £330m, less than 2% of the social care budget for the coming year.

The leaders of 18 local authorities have signed an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer calling for the next government to ensure all care workers in England earn at least the real living wage, including for travel time and sleep-in shifts.

“Care work is vital, demanding, skilled work and people taking on this responsibility should earn more than the legal minimum,” the letter states. “If we want to build a social care workforce which is fit for the demands of the future, we must ensure that staff earn enough to meet their everyday needs.”

The signatories, who include the leaders of Liverpool and Dorset councils and eight London boroughs, say that while some local authorities have been able to implement the real living wage for care workers, many cannot afford it “without greater support from central government”.

Simon Bottery, a senior fellow in social care at the King’s Fund thinktank, said improving social care pay would be popular with the public but needed to be rooted in a wider workforce strategy to improve training and career development, rather than tackled in isolation.

Nina Hemmings, a Nuffield Trust researcher, said: “For too long pay and conditions for care workers have been pitiful and unattractive compared to roles in other sectors, with the result being chronically high vacancy rates and around one in five care home workers living in poverty and deprivation.

“Boosting pay for care workers in line with the real living wage is one of several measures that could be taken to fix this. The next government should be emboldened by the precedent set by the Scottish and Welsh governments.”

Social care pay is likely to feature in a number of election manifestos. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to introduce a carer’s minimum wage set £2 above the standard minimum wage to tackle the huge shortage of care workers.