A panel of leaders in the home care sector have discussed the importance of a competitive wage in attracting and retaining a quality workforce.
Speaking during the UKHCA conference at the Care Show last week, the panel agreed that low pay in the sector is an issue, but stressed that things like training opportunities and feeling valued are also important to existing professionals and people considering a career in care.
David Chalk, managing director of Windrush Care, told delegates that having a supportive management team is essential.
He added: “I also think that for some people, it is important to have flexibility in the job role so they can work when they want. This is a bit of a hot potato around zero-hours and variable-hours contracts, but in our experience, the vast majority of workers appreciate and actually effectively demand that level of flexibility as part of the quid pro quo for coming in and working in our sector.”
Roger Booker, managing director of Direct Health, also stressed the importance of good working conditions, but argued that if someone is looking for a career in care then that means a full-time job, with reasonable hours. However, the current way in which care is delivered through commissioners and providers means this is very difficult to achieve.
He explained: “In a domiciliary care environment you are told which clients you can go to and what you do [when you get there]. If the system changes and local authorities, in the main, take their hands of the reins and say ‘there’s some money, go out and deliver the care to that group of service users in a way that will fulfill their lives’ without being prescriptive over what you do, then you will find that you will have a group of care workers in a given locality looking after a group of service users, just in the same way as there might be 48 service users in a residential home.
“They will be able deliver all of their care needs on a flexible basis, on a career-based salary basis, and this will transform the way in which care is delivered in this country.”
Martin Jones, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care said: “Pay is obviously important for our carers, but it’s not the only thing. I think training is also important, as is the recognition for the work they do. It’s actually about feeling supported.
“At Home Instead we have an employee assistance scheme so if they are going through difficulties they are getting supported. Our care givers carry out a lot of difficult tasks and handle difficult situations, such as end of life, so we need to support them through all those transitions. I think if we actually start to make home care a more credible sector and change the perception of the sector, then we will start to attract different types of people, but we still need to employ people who actually care about what they do.”
Karolina Gerlich, a frontline care professional and CEO of the National Association for Care & Support Workers (NACAS), agreed that home care workers want to feel supported and valued in the workplace, but stressed that a boost in pay is important to improving the well-being of staff.
“Pay would have to go together with the registration of care workers and for workers to be finally recognised as a highly skilled workforce that is on par with health staff. In recent years we have taken over so many health tasks in people’s homes. What is also important is for training standards to be consistent across the country and to give people training opportunities to develop, for example, into specialist dementia care workers.
“Saying that, pay is very important. When I used to do live-in care work I was paid £54 for 24 hours of work. So we can’t really expect people to give all of themselves and deliver care with respect and dignity when they are worrying about their finances month after month.
“Our research on the well-being of care workers shows that so many care workers don’t feel like they can, on a monthly basis, cover their food bills, and many of them can’t even afford one annual holiday. And it seems like if people are working in a sector which revolves around looking after the well-being of other people, it should work both ways. People who do this work should also be very well looked after.”
A study by Unison published in January found that thousands of care workers across England and Wales are being paid less than the national minimum wage because councils aren’t insisting that home care companies pay for travel time.
Using a Freedom of Information request, the trade union revealed that more than half (54%) of local authorities in England don’t state in their contracts that firms must pay employees for time spent travelling between visits.
UKHCA’s minimum price for home care services of £18.93 per hour from April 2019 allows full compliance with the National Minimum Wage and the delivery of sustainable home care services to local authorities and the NHS.
But the average invoice rate for state-funded home care was £16.88 per hour in March, according to a report by the Access Group.