Are care workers really being paid less?

According to recent findings, care workers are now earning less and gaining lower-level qualifications than in previous years. 


The data also indicates that adult social care employees who receive higher wages possess relevant qualifications, have access to training opportunities, and enjoy job security are markedly less prone to leaving their positions compared to those lacking these attributes.


Qualification decline 


The State of the adult social care sector and workforce report revealed that:


  • As of March 2018, approximately 49% of care workers had a level 2 qualification (akin to GCSE level). 
  • This declined to 41% by March 2021. 
  • More than half (52%) of care workers held no relevant qualifications at all.
  • Of the group mentioned above, 51% had over five years of experience in the sector. 


Inflation is also major catalyst for the drop in average pay for care workers, despire significant increases to the national living wage. 


What is the average pay for care workers? 


The median average pay in real terms for care workers in the independent sector dropped from £10.62 per hour in March 2021 to £10.11 per hour in March 2023, aligning closely with the level recorded three years prior.


Furthermore, in March 2021, the National Living Wage (NLW) lagged behind median care worker pay by £1.90 per hour, but this gap reduced to just 61p per hour in the following two years. The NLW increased to £10.42 per hour in April 2023, and the government has committed to raising it to over £11 per hour starting from the following April.


Consistently, the state of the sector report reiterated the lack of recognition for experience in the independent sector of social care. Care workers with five years or more of experience earned only an average of 6p per hour more than those with less than a year of experience as of March 2023. 


This situation has remained unchanged since March 2021 and is significantly lower than the 33p gap recorded in March 2016.


Steps being taken to address staffing shortages? 

Skills for Care noted that retention rates have improved; with the vacancy rate reaching an all-time high of 10.7% in March 2022. However, by March 2023, it dropped to 9.9% and 8.4% by August this year. 


This was predominantly thanks to recruitment overseas, which increased after social workers were added to the government’s shortage occupation list in February 2022. 


Beverley Tarka, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said: 


“International recruitment has been a welcome boost to the workforce, but it’s a sticking plaster to the bigger problems of poor pay and working conditions – without solving these, we will never solve the staffing crisis in adult social care.”


“The next government must commit to a long-term, fully funded plan for social care which will offer fair pay to care workers, to enable us all to live well, work and get the care we need.”


Martin Green, chief executive of independent provider body Care England, added: 


“Government must urgently heed the warnings in this report. International recruitment is currently propping up the sector.


“To ensure the stability and resilience of the care sector, government investment is not just advisable, it’s imperative.”

carlette Isaac

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