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Care Workers Demand £15 Minimum Wage Amid Recruitment Crisis and Escalating Responsibilities

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Care workers are calling for increased wages, telling Sky News that at least £15 per hour is essential to sustain the industry, which currently has around 150,000 open positions.

Political correspondent @fayebrownSky

Friday, June 21, 2024, 11:

In the early 1990s, when Sam Thornton decided to leave school and pursue a career in caregiving, the salary for such a position was regarded as favorable.

The hourly pay stood at £6.50, with additional compensation for nighttime and weekend hours.

Three decades later, the mother of two reveals to Sky News that her salary has increased by just £6.

Moreover, her duties have grown significantly in scope.

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Currently employed as a support worker for adults with disabilities, Ms. Thornton's responsibilities involve dispensing critical medications, replacing stoma bags, managing bowel care, providing PEG feeding, and coordinating with physical therapists and medical consultants.

This adds to foundational tasks such as meal preparation and housekeeping, offering emotional support, and assisting individuals with their financial planning.

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"She says there are countless examples."

"People likely don't grasp just how overwhelming it can be. There are days when you're so swamped that you don't even have time to take a sip of water."

"Our current salaries do not accurately represent what we deserve. The entire compensation system is flawed."

"Over the span of 33 years, my salary has increased by only £6 despite significantly more responsibilities."

Ms. Thornton, based in Oxfordshire, earns £12.50 per hour. This rate is roughly typical for care and support workers across the UK, although there's a notable wage gap between those employed by private companies and those working for local governments, with numerous individuals earning below the actual living wage.

Labor unions, business executives, and various organizations advocating for caregivers argue that the minimum wage should be significantly increased to tackle the escalating crisis in hiring and retaining staff, as there are currently about 150,000 open positions.

£15 per hour 'absolute lowest requirement'

Karolina Gerlich, who transitioned from care worker to head of a nonprofit, believes that a minimum hourly wage of £15 is essential to rescue the industry.

The charity she leads, the Care Workers Charity, offers financial assistance to employees facing hardships and has experienced a significant surge in requests due to the rising cost of living.

"Initially, we were able to satisfy that requirement, but now we distribute them monthly since we simply lack the funds to keep them available constantly," she explains.

The funds offer individuals monetary assistance to manage their debts, settle their bills, and avoid losing their homes.

"We're not funding vacations; we're simply helping cover essential needs such as food and clothing for their kids.

"Individuals often earn insufficient salaries and find themselves barely managing expenses from one salary to the next. Consequently, an unexpected car malfunction or a broken washing machine, which prevents them from laundering their work attire, can create a dire situation due to their lack of savings. This is when our assistance becomes crucial."

Ms. Gerlich echoed Ms. Thornton's sentiments, emphasizing that the duties of a care worker have grown more medical in nature and are more challenging than commonly perceived.

"This is the effort carried out by unseen women."

Yet, it fails to receive the recognition and corresponding compensation it merits for various reasons.

"She points out that the task is predominantly undertaken by middle-aged women, who often go unnoticed in society… Consequently, there's a gender-biased perception that this type of work is naturally suited to women and should not be compensated. Additionally, the workforce includes a significant number of migrants, which introduces further prejudices," she explains.

"There exists a pervasive ableist mindset within society and governmental structures that undermines the value of individuals who rely on care, questioning why those who provide such care would be valued either?"

"The promotion suggests that it's open to everyone, reinforcing the notion that earning minimum wage is acceptable."

What are the proposals from political leaders

The issue of care has notably slipped from the forefront of political discussions recently. Boris Johnson's 2019 commitment to comprehensively address social care, which included proposals like imposing a limit on care expenses, faded from focus well before his tenure as prime minister ended.

The nation is entering the general election with its system in a dire state, says the Public Accounts Committee of the parliament. They attribute this to "prolonged periods of inconsistent funding and a lack of a definitive strategic plan," which has led to increased waiting times, a shortage of personnel, and overstretched local finances.

Learn more:

"Address the social care crisis," Conservatives and Labour urged

Each major political group has proposed their own remedies: The Conservatives pledge to implement their postponed changes, while the Liberal Democrats are committed to providing free personal care and increasing the minimum wage for care workers by £2 per hour.

The Labour Party, poised to secure leadership at Downing Street following a 14-year hiatus, has committed to introducing a fair pay deal for caregivers and initiating a series of reforms aimed at establishing a National Care Service.

The proposals have received a tepid response from Andrew Dilnot, the designer behind the government's postponed changes to social care.

He conveyed to Sky News that politicians must mature and address the crisis in the industry, as he feels they hesitate due to concerns over being blamed for potential tax increases in the future.

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Staff shortages are causing numerous vacancies in care homes even as hospitals grapple with unprecedented waiting times. The sector is increasingly dependent on foreign labor and a substantial number of unpaid caregivers who tend to family members.

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The core problem is the need for increased funding from the central government. Without it, "commissioners are unable to pay providers higher rates," according to Rachael Dodgson, CEO of the care company Dimensions.

This organization is one of six nonprofit providers urging the upcoming administration to set and finance a baseline salary for care workers at NHS Band 3, a measure aimed at properly acknowledging the profession and leveling the playing field with other industries.

Ms. Thornton, who is 51, views her role in support work as a calling, even though it can be financially challenging at times, making it hard to cover essential expenses such as new glasses or dentist visits. She notes that younger individuals are less inclined to stay in such roles for long.

Many are departing en masse for less demanding, higher-paying roles in the retail and hospitality sectors, or they are dismissing the idea of pursuing it as a career entirely.

"We are finding it challenging to attract the younger generation to this position, as they can earn more working at Aldi with significantly less responsibility."

"If you possess a compassionate nature and the pay is sufficient, it can be the most fulfilling profession imaginable, though it’s often viewed as a low-status occupation."

"The thought of aging is inevitable for us all, and it's worrisome to consider the state of elder care if improvements aren't made."

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