A new Skills for Care report details the pay rates of adult social care workers across England.
Findings show that the average care worker was 59p (8%) better off, in real terms, in February 2019 than they were in September 2012.
The real term hourly pay for care workers among the bottom 10% of earners increased by around 9.6% – after inflation – from March 2016 to February 2019, the report says. This was much greater than for those care workers higher up the pay ladder, with the top 30% of earners’ pay rate increasing by around 3%.
The pay gap between the most experienced care workers and those new to the sector has also narrowed from 32p in 2016 to 17p in February 2019.
Skills for Care found that the median hourly rate for a care worker was £8.10 in February, but there was a clear north-south divide, with the highest average hourly pay rates recorded in London (£8.50) and the South East (£8.40), and the lowest in the North West and the North East at £7.93 and £7.95 respectively.
However, the cost of living shows more regional variation than care worker pay. As a result, in regions where the cost of living was lower – the West Midlands and the North East – average care worker pay was relatively high compared to the cost of living.
In the South East and South West where the cost of living was highest, the average care worker take home pay was lower than the cost of living – £7 a week in the South East.
Since the government introduced the National Living Wage (NLW) in 2016, the proportion of care workers being paid the minimum rate has almost doubled. In February 2019, 30% of care workers were paid the minimum compared to 17% in March 2016.
However, the number of care workers who were paid on or above the Real Living Wage, set by the Living Wage Foundation to reflect the basic cost of living, fell from just over a quarter (26%) in September 2012 to just over 10% in February 2019.
This can be partly attributed to minimal pay rises given to care workers who are higher up the pay ladder during this period, and therefore their pay rate has fallen below the Real Living Wage rates, which were increased to £10.55 in London and £9.00 across the rest of the UK in November 2018.
The NLW rose again 1 April 2019 to £8.21 and the government has set a target for it to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020 – currently estimated by the Low Pay Commission at £8.63 for April 2020.
Skills for Care said that with the increasing wage floor, a challenge for employers will be continuing to reward the workers with more experience, greater responsibilities or those who are more qualified that are already paid above the NLW rate.
The organisation predicts that the increase will have the largest impact on the lowest paying sectors, including social care.
“Unless the higher paying sectors can increase wages at the same rate, adult social care will become proportionally closer to these other sectors in terms of pay. As the NLW continues to increase, more sectors are likely to bunch around the NLW rate which could reduce pay as a barrier to choosing a career in adult social care,” the report said.
“There is currently no evidence of the NLW having a large impact on recruitment and retention in the adult social care sector although Skills for Care will continue to monitor this.”