Care sector leaders are up in arms over the government’s decision to exclude social care staff from its new public sector pay rise.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak (pictured), announced yesterday 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 are among those who will see extra money in their pay packet, nurses, midwives, paramedics and social care workers will miss out.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said it was “unacceptable” for the government to “side step” the issue around social care workers’ pay.
“Care workers have been a stalwart of the Covid front line and need recognition. This has never been a low skilled job, and should never again be consigned as a low paid role,” she added.
“We need the government to act now to ensure that each and every care worker is rewarded for their extraordinary work.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK think tank, said the decision was “unforgiveable” and “unjustifiable”.
“For seven austere years, the public sector pay freeze was a dereliction of duty by government. It has directly contributed to the workforce crisis we see in health and care today,” said IPPR senior research fellow Chris Thomas.
“Today was an opportunity to correct that failing and open pay negotiations across the NHS. It is unforgivable that after the remarkable bravery of all our healthcare heroes they would not receive fair pay. We urge the government to reconsider their exclusion.”
Attempting to justify the decision, Tory minister Kit Malthouse blamed the privatisation of the social care sector for care workers missing out on a pay rise.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “The vast majority of social care workers are paid in the private sector so our ability to influence pay rates there is limited.”
Asked whether the government could set special minimum wage limits for social care workers and give local authorities the funds to make up the difference between that and their private sector salaries, Malthouse said ministers were focusing on the national minimum wage instead.
“What we have done is raise the level of the minimum wage very significantly over the last few years to get it up towards the £10.50 mark. That, we hope, will push through into these private sector jobs.
“Everybody looks at people who work in social care during coronavirus and thinks they have done a fantastic job in very, very difficult circumstances.
“But that’s the mechanism by which we think we can increase pay in that sector.”
Responding to the minister’s claims, Edel Harris, chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said it is an “insult to support workers” that the government claims to value their work yet thinks the minimum wage is fair pay.
“The Government shouldn’t suggest that there is little they can do about it when it is their responsibility to set national policy and funding levels,” she said.
“Support workers have been doing extraordinary work supporting the most vulnerable in our society in challenging circumstances throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Some have sadly lost their lives and yet the social care sector has had to fight every step of the way for parity with NHS colleagues, including when it comes to access to testing and PPE.
“Beyond gestures, such as the care badge and clapping for carers, support workers have seen little recognition for their incredible work on the frontline during this crisis. It’s the Government’s responsibility to legislate and properly fund support worker pay – they must be valued and paid on par with healthcare workers.”
Colin Angel, policy director at United Kingdom Homecare Association, tweeted: “Seriously? Kit Malthouse arguing that pay for social care workers should be given the National Minimum Wage, rather than government funding councils adequately and requiring money to reach the front line? Disgraceful.”
The Guardian has reported that John McDonnel, an influential backbencher and former shadow chancellor, will today call for the urgent nationalisation of care services in response to the pandemic, arguing that years of underfunding has exposed cracks in the system.
He will use his speech to say: “With another spike in the virus highly possible, it’s time to act decisively and create the caring services we need.
“We need the urgent nationalisation of care to establish the National Care and Support Service alongside the NHS.”
But former cabinet minister Damian Green said incorporating social care into the NHS would be “dangerous” and “wholly wrong”.
Speaking during a webinar on the future of social care, the MP for Ashford said while it would be a “simple and attractive solution” that the public would understand, it is the “last thing NHS managers want”.