One in five UK residential care workers were living in poverty before the cost of living crisis hit, according to a new analysis by The Health Foundation. This compares to one in eight of all workers, highlighting the pay gap in the social care sector.
The analysis also found that one in 10 residential have experienced periods where they have not had reliable access to enough health food, also known as food insecurity.
This has a knock-on effect on other family members, with 13% of residential care worker’s children living in material deprivation, where families are unable to provide essentials like fresh fruit and vegetables or a warm winter coat for their family. This compares to 5% in the general population.
Around one in five (20%) also rely on universal credit to make up for lost income, compared to one in 10 (10%) of all workers.
Four in five jobs pay better than the average care worker’s salary
The Health Foundation is now calling for additional investment and reform for social care to address low pay and poor working conditions.
This comes as the Skills for Care’s annual report found that four in five of all jobs in England pay more than the average hourly wage for independent sector care workers.
In light of this, the authors of the report say the government should prioritise improving pay in a fully-funded, comprehensive workforce plan for social care in England and that broader policy to tackle poverty is also vital – including on housing and social security.
They argue that the government’s plan for economic growth will mostly benefit the richest households, and without more support for the lowest earners, life will get much more difficult for care workers and those working in the lowest paid jobs in the UK.
The government’s plan for growth “prioritises tax cuts over investment in public service”
Hugh Alderwick, Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said: “Social care workers – who are mostly women – play a vital role in society but are among the lowest paid workers in the UK, and experience shocking levels of poverty and deprivation. Many cannot afford enough food, shelter, clothing and other essentials, putting their health at risk.
“Sustained underfunding of social care has contributed to unacceptable pay and conditions for staff and major workforce shortages, with vacancies in England rising by 52% last year. This reflects political choices. If government values people using and providing social care, it must act to tackle low pay and insecure employment conditions in the sector.
“People on low incomes are most likely to struggle through the current cost-of-living crisis, and poverty in the UK is set to increase. Yet government’s plan for growth prioritises tax cuts over investment in public services – with a further squeeze on public spending likely to follow.”