Hourly pay rates for social care workers has fallen behind that of retail assistants and cleaners over the last eight years, a report by Skills for Care has found.
The workforce intelligence report showed that care worker median hourly pay was historically higher than for other low-paying job roles, such as retail and sales assistants, hairdressers, kitchen and catering assistants and cleaners. But, by 2019/20, the gap had narrowed.
Notably, kitchen and catering assistants earned 53p less per hour on average in 2012/13 than care workers. By 2019/20, this gap had reduced to 15p. Similarly, sales and retail assistants earned 13p per hour less than care workers in 2012/13, but in 2019/20 they earned 24p per hour more on average than care workers.
Care worker pay has increased at a faster rate since the introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW), the report shows. Prior to this, care worker hourly pay had increased by an average of 1.9% per year between September 2012 and March 2016. Since the launch of the NLW, the hourly rate has increased by an average of 30p (3.9%) between March 2016 and March 2020.
The proportion of care workers paid the statutory minimum amount has increased since the introduction of the NLW, from 16% in March 2016, to 23% in March 2020.
However, pay at the lower end of the pay scale has risen at a faster pace than it has at the top, illustrating a lack of pay progression in the sector.
On average, care workers with at least five years’ experience in the sector are paid just 12p (1%) more per hour than care workers with less than one year of experience.
The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce report also notes that around a quarter (24%) of the workforce were employed on a zero-hours contract in 2019/20, with domiciliary care services having the highest proportion of staff (42%) employed on these contracts, especially among care workers (56%).
Skills for Care estimates that the turnover rate of directly employed staff working in adult social care was 30.4% in 2019/20. This equates to approximately 430,000 people leaving their jobs over the course of the year. The care worker turnover rate within domiciliary providers was 39.1%.
However, most of these leavers don’t leave the sector – around 67% of jobs were recruited from other roles within the sector in 2019/20.
Meanwhile, the staff vacancy rate in 2019/20 fell by 0.3% percentage points to 7.3%, the first decrease seen in an eight-year period. There’s also evidence to suggest that the vacancy rate may have fallen further since the start of the pandemic.
However, despite the recent decreases, there are still an estimated 112,000 vacancies in adult social care, suggesting that the supply of available workers is still substantially lower than the demand.
Skills for Care CEO Oonagh Smith said: “Any reduction in the number of vacancies is welcome, but we need to attract more new recruits who have the right values to fill posts that offer long term careers where you can make a difference in people’s lives every single day.
“Once people have discovered the personal satisfaction on offer in social care, we need to keep them by investing in pay, their professional development and creating clear career pathways. We cannot miss this opportunity so we must continue to invest in our frontline staff and dedicated leaders and managers who have made such a difference in keeping people safe and well during the pandemic.
“We will use the quality information in this report to make long-term workforce decisions informed by solid data in what is a critical period of change for a workforce bigger than the NHS.”
Commenting on the report, Kathryn Smith, CEO of the Social Care Institute for Excellence Chief Executive, said: “It’s concerning that many vacancies still exist, especially at a time when preparations are being made to protect care services as we head for winter; and at a time when social care is a growing sector.
“The workforce needs to move from low pay, low recognition and poor conditions; towards higher pay, better conditions, progression and development. The workforce also needs to have parity of esteem with the NHS. We agree with Skills for Care that careers in social care offer job satisfaction that also makes a difference to people. It’s time to recognise that with government action”.
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said that overhauling the care sector is the answer to staff shortages.
“Vacancy rates this high prove the care system is broken. Government immigration policies are simply making a bad situation worse,” she said.
“Ministers says they appreciate care workers, but gratitude won’t keep the wolf from the door. Care can be tough, emotionally exhausting, highly skilled work. But its staff are also underpaid, poorly treated, and undervalued.
“The government must end the care crisis by showing it’s ready to end a bargain-basement service that puts profits above care and treats staff like numbers on a spreadsheet.”