Age UK is calling for better pay for the social care workforce to put them on par with their NHS counterparts.
In a new report, the charity said care staff are struggling to make ends meet on the average £15,000 salary, about half the UK average and 24p less per hour than shop assistants.
The report, titled Time to Bring our Care Workers in from the Cold’, says that the 1.65 million strong care workforce has been left behind the NHS when it comes to being prioritised for PPE, testing, mental health support, priority access to shops and pay rises.
One Unison study found that four in five social care workers reported that their mental health had been damaged by their work during the pandemic. Another report from the trade union showed that three in four domiciliary care workers did not feel they had enough time to do their job, even before the crisis hit.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “Older people often tell us how grateful they are for the help they receive from care staff and I know from the experience of my own Mum that they make a life-changing difference. But how have we allowed a position to be reached in which you can earn more working in a supermarket than providing vital care, and enjoy better terms, conditions and career opportunities in the NHS for doing precisely the same job?
“The lack of Government funding for care often translates into exploitative working conditions for care staff, which in turn undermine the quality of care on offer to older and disabled people. Social care is above all a people business and if you don’t value the men and women who provide it you are undervaluing those who receive it too.”
Commenting on the report, assistant general secretary and co-chair of the Future Social Care Coalition Christina McAnea said: “These shocking findings are a wake-up call to government that enough is enough.
“Care staff can’t go on being ignored, undervalued and left to exist on poverty wages. A wage boost is needed now to get them through the pandemic and attract new recruits.
“A national care service would also bring about long overdue reform of the sector. It would drive up standards, boost pay and training and ensure the care service is put on an equal footing with the NHS.”
The CEO of Care England has previously urged the government to give social care equal priority to the NHS ahead of the 2020 Budget.
Professor Martin Green said the Conservatives must recognise that social care is “intrinsically linked” with the NHS and fund both sectors equally in order to reward the workforce with “good and fair” wages.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced in July that 900,000 public sector workers on the frontline of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic will be given an above-inflation pay rise.
But while doctors, teachers and police officers were among those who received the extra money, nurses, midwives, paramedics and social care workers missed out.