An independent think tank has called for all care workers to receive a “decent wage” in recognition of their key contribution during the national coronavirus crisis.
A new report by the Resolution Foundation revealed that more than half of the 1.6 million care workers in the UK are being paid below the Real Living Wage, with one in ten on zero contracts.
The voluntary living wage, which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation based on the cost of living, is currently set at £10.75 per hour in London and £9.30 per hour in the rest of the UK.
“Ensuring that all care workers receive at least the Real Living Wage, alongside a modicum of job security and predictability in their working hours, should have been a priority long before any of us had heard of coronavirus or clapped on a Thursday evening. Putting this right now is the very least we should do,” the report notes.
The think tank highlights England as the “worst offender” in the UK with almost two-thirds (61%) of frontline care workers receiving less than the Real Living Wage. Pay levels are significantly worse in the private sector, where two out of three care workers are paid below the Living Wage.
In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, 43%, 55% and 56% of care workers are being paid the Real Living Wage respectively.
Overall, 58% of care workers in the UK are being paid the voluntary wage.
The report also cites Skills for Care data, which shows that nine in ten care workers in the private sector in England were paid below the Real Living Wage as of March 2019.
High agency usage and turnover was also cited in the report as a particular problem for the sector.
The study estimates that the gross cost of public funding would have to rise by £1bn to bring care workers up to the Real Living Wage but adds the net cost to the public purse would be just half this figure due to lower benefit payments and higher tax receipts.
Commenting on the findings, Lola McEvoy, Key Worker Organiser for GMB Union said: “The UK care sector was at breaking point before the Covid19 pandemic. Underfunded, underpaid and undervalued we know expect one of the largest low paid workforces in our country to face down this virus with maximum risk to themselves for minimum wage and minimum sick pay. Paying the minimum wage to anyone sends a very clear message about how much they are little they are valued for what they do.
“When our members win the real Living Wage, they tell us that aside from the obvious financial relief, the increase hugely increased their feeling of self-worth and they feel much more appreciated at work. Now as these social care workers face alarming numbers of resident’s deaths, a lack of PPE and insultingly low statutory sick pay, we owe them at least that.”