The Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has today set out his vision for social care at the NHS ConfedExpo in Liverpool.

Mr Javid has said that the additional £39 billion of funding generated by the Health and Care Levy will be used to tackle the Covid backlog, improve social care and narrow health inequalities.

He added that the government is ensuring the NHS has the ‘necessary tools’ to boost its workforce and will focus on employing great leadership at the top, which will in turn help to take the burden off staff, allowing them to focus on providing care for patients.

But the not-for-profit organisation Dimensions says that unless the government increases the minimum wage for care workers, the same problems will persist.

Initial increase in cost will be balanced out by long-term savings

Dimensions highlight that currently, there is no incentive for care workers to stay in their jobs. The basic wage of a support worker is £9.50 an hour, yet most supermarkets pay £10.50 an hour.

The charity is therefore calling on the government to increase the minimum support worker pay to NHS Band 3 (£10.40 per hour). This would mean that care workers earn the same as clinical support workers, therapy assistants, pharmacy assistants, administrative workers and clerical staff.

There should also be pro-rata increases for registered managers and other more senior positions, according to Dimensions, which would encourage support workers to stay in their roles and progress in their careers.

By doing so, Dimensions says support workers will earn a wage commensurate with their skills and responsibilities, and will have more of an incentive to stay in social care rather than moving to retail, for example.

While these measures are expected to cost a lot more initially, the charity says that people will require less support over time and the government will save on agency and recruitment costs, resulting in considerable off-payroll savings.

Government must “take workforce issues in social care seriously”

As well as increasing care workers' pay, Dimensions would like to see:

  1. The establishment of a Care and Support Work Skills Framework 
  2. Vocational training in schools and high-quality work readiness programmes for adults to better prepare them for work
  3. Better utilisation of the workforce, including disabled and neurodiverse people
  4. A targeted strategy to effectively integrate health and care
  5. An annual workforce plan for social care.

Until this happens, the charity says we will continue to face problems in social care, which will have a wider impact on the entire health sector, as they explain: “Without a social care workforce, both the care sector and the health sector cease to function. Right now, government must take workforce issues in social care seriously.”

Abolishing an “unfair system” of means testing

The British Medical Association (BMA) have made similar calls. The Association highlights that social care has suffered from chronic underfunding for years, and estimate that a further £7.9bn a year is needed by 2024/25 to keep up with cost pressures and demand, and to pay social care staff a fair wage.

As well as increasing the wages of care staff, the BMA is urging the government to introduce a standard work contract and improved training opportunities for social care staff with the option for every care worker to move onto this new contract.

Further, to protect people receiving care and their families, the Association says that personal care should be free at the point of need. This would enable social care to be accessed by all who need it and abolish the “unfair system” of means testing.

“A ticking time bomb”

Chair of the BMA's committee on community care Dr Anil Jain said: “It is alarming that we could see up to 500,000 vacancies in social care by the end of 2030. This, alongside an ageing population, means that we are effectively facing a ticking time bomb.

"The Government must act now to effectively remunerate and value care workers to ensure that there are enough staff to look after all those in need of social care in the future.

“The current social care system is deeply flawed. As doctors, we are concerned that the Government proposals to fix are not sustainable and will risk seeing the health of some of the most vulnerable and elderly populations worsening. The system needs urgent reform if we are to meet the challenges of the future.”