I’m really pleased that NHS workers in England have been awarded the full 3% recommended by their pay review body. It is the least we can do to repay the enormous debt of gratitude owed by the whole country.

But this does serve to highlight the inequality between health workers and care workers many of whom have had nothing more than the standard increases to national living wage rates.   They don’t have a national pay review body and have to rely on the forces of a dysfunctional market where every year Local Authorities are expected to provide more care with less cash.

 Not only that, but care workers are often treated as inferior – categorised as low skilled and subjected to rules like mandatory vaccinations. The Government wouldn’t dare impose that on their NHS counterparts. 

This isn’t new – in many ways, low pay for care workers has been baked in to the system from the start.  

Care workers are already among the lowest paid in the country. The latest Skills for Care data shows that some care ​staff earn less per hour than the average retail assistant, and that 22% of care staff are paid at the national ​minimum wage rates. A report recently commissioned by Community Integrated Care (CIC) shows that many frontline workers in social care are undervalued by as much as 39% – nearly £7,000 a year – compared to equivalent publicly funded positions, according to the report. The charity commissioned the consulting firm Korn Ferry to analyse the support worker position compared to other public sector roles, which found it is significantly undervalued.  The average pay for support workers in England who assist people to live independently in the community is £17,695 or £9.05 per hour 45p per hour below the Real Living Wage.  Researchers found that roles with equivalent scope, complexity and accountability within other public-funded sectors were paid £24,602 on average.

We need to prevent their pay being eroded further and that is why action is needed urgently as an important part of social care reform..

UNISON and Mencap recently wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to amend current rules so that sleep-in shifts are defined as working time ​for the purposes of minimum wage law and asking that he consider the powers his government has to influence the pay of frontline social care workers across the country.

Acute underfunding lies at the heart of why social care is not fit for purpose. Central government must make more resources available to local authorities ​to allow much-needed reform. Improving the pay of the care workforce is the most sensible starting point. 

The response to our letter which came not from the Prime Minister but from Helen Whately MP, Minister for Care suggested that as the vast majority of care workers are employed by private sector providers who ultimately set their pay, there is very little that any central government can do to address the matter.  Local Authorities work with care providers to determine a fair rate of pay based on local market conditions”.

I was disappointed with the response.

I do not agree with the suggestion that the Government has no power or say over care worker pay.  I understand that where private sector care companies deliver services privately then it is up to them to agree a charge and to remunerate their staff accordingly.  However, the majority of social care that is delivered in this country is not privately funded but rather contracted on behalf of the state via local government.  It is within central government’s power to set minimum pay rates for social care workers delivering publicly funded social care contracts.

There is a precedent for this in Scotland where the Scottish Government and COSLA have agreed that all social care workers in Scotland should be paid as a minimum the Real Living Wage (not the minimum wage) for all hours worked which interestingly also covers overnight support, despite the Supreme Court ruling.  If it can be done in one part of the UK then surely it can be done elsewhere.  Where there is a will there is a way.

I have replied to Ms Whately and asked her and the Prime Minister to consider the matter further and to ensure that genuinely valuing the social care workforce is incorporated into the long awaited social care reform.

Each of us will have a friend or relative who relies on the exceptional support provided by social care staff. Or ​we may well need help ourselves one day. This is your chance, Prime Minister, to show you value their remarkable work with fair pay.