The recent report by the Migration Advisory Committee spells out to the Government in no uncertain terms that the recruitment of social care workers will not substantially improve until the issue of minimum pay and conditions is addressed.
Professor Brian Bell, chairman of the committee said: “The Migration Advisory Committee has put forward 19 recommendations which will help alleviate the challenges facing the social care sector. But we are clear that immigration cannot be a silver bullet to solve the fundamental challenges the sector faces. These challenges result from years of underfunding which predate and dwarf any immigration related factors.
We are in no doubt that the single most important factor that underlies almost all the workforce problems in social care arise as a result of the persistent underfunding of the care sector by successive Governments. It is not for us to advise on either the appropriate level of funding for social care nor on the method of financing such funding. However, one cannot seriously address the workforce issues in social care unless pay is improved; this is essential to boosting recruitment and improving retention.
Why should the pay of social care workers be linked to the National Minimum Wage?
The report suggests that there is no reason why the pay of care workers should rise only when the National Living Wage rises; indeed, there are clear reasons why relying on NLW uplifts will not address the recruitment and retention difficulties. What is needed is a minimum pay rate for care workers that is fully funded by Government and is above the NLW.
Both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have implemented a mandatory hourly wage for care workers above the statutory minimum. Higher pay across the rest of the UK is a prerequisite to attract and retain workers in social care. We therefore recommend that the Government introduces a fully funded minimum rate of pay for care workers in England that is above the NLW, where care is being provided through public funds. As a minimum starting point, we would recommend a level of £10.50 per hour to be implemented immediately.
We would also strongly emphasise that an increase of this magnitude is not enough to address the issues presented by low pay in the sector and urge the Government to go significantly further as quickly as possible. In addition, differentials across the workforce must increase and the pay premium historically afforded to social care workers over other jobs must be reinstated to increase attractiveness and fairly reward employees for the unique nature of their work – increases to the NLW simply do not solve the issue.
Independent pay review
Vic Rayner OBE, CEO of NCF and member of the social care expert advisory supporting the MAC with this work, said: “While a focus on the minimum pay for care workers in this report is a helpful contribution to this issue, the NCF has consistently called for an independent pay review for social care, which involves employers, commissioners, and employee representatives with a view to implementing a new career-based pay and reward structure which is comparable with the NHS and equivalent sectors and fully-funded by central government.”
Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), said: “The Migration Advisory Committee’s report offers a further wake up call for government. The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group backs the Committee’s recommendation to fully fund a rate of social care pay above the National Living Wage. A fully funded £10.50 per hour social care rate would be a good start, but we know the true value of care work is much more. We need to be ambitious in rewarding talent for much needed social care.”
The Migration Advisory Committee Report puts further pressure on the Government to improve the pay and conditions of social care workers. Despite migration being the main role of the committee, it was felt prudent to draw the attention of the Government to the central issue facing social care that of improved pay for its workers.
As the Committee so rightly pointed out, why is the Government dragging its heels on this, when both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have implemented a mandatory hourly wage for social care workers.
Immigration may help to alleviate the situation, but it will not bring about the fundamental change required to recruit the number of staff needed to an industry that is crying out for better pay and conditions for its workers.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy