Opinion

Where are the solidarity campaigns for care workers in this cost of living crisis?

Karolina Gerlich, CEO, The Care Workers Charity

Care workers will be amongst those making the choice between a heated home and a hot plate of food this year, and yet the new Health and Social Care Act 2022 has no specific commitments to giving care workers a fair wage or addressing the significant workforce shortages in the sector.

As inflation hits its highest level for 40 years, we look back on a 1982 campaign by the National Union of Public Employees which asked ‘What’s 4% to us?’ in reference to hospital workers wages. Miners, printers and electricians held ‘solidarity strikes’ to put additional pressure on the government, and this eventually resulted in the creation of an independent pay review body for the NHS which is still active today.

Fast forward to 2022 and there is no body representing the interests of care workers, they are less likely to be part of a union, and they are one the lowest paid workers in the country. They are suffering from steep rises in the cost of food and fuel, and their wages are unlikely to go above National Minimum Wage as care providers struggle to meet the caps on care costs. So what does 9% inflation mean to them? Our crisis grants programme shows that for many it means rent arrears,  increased anxiety and no cash for basic household goods.

The Care Workers Charity has awarded 1897 grants during 2021 to a total value of over £1 million with a large majority of these funds going towards the basic costs of living for some of the UKs hardest workers. (full details can be found in our Impact Report

The Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented government funding and public attention to the various crises facing the health and social care sector. But from April this year, care workers are paying an additional £121 a year to fund the reform package which makes no commitment to increasing their pay and improving their working conditions. In adult social care, the turnover rate is double the UK average and the vacancy rate is well above unemployment. A sector that once relied heavily on immigration is now at breaking point, and it’s becoming harder to convince people to become care workers even though we desperately need them. The people who remain in the sector are trying their best to paper over the cracks, and increasingly at risk of burnout. What does 9% mean to them? Our mental health programme shows that it means an impossible choice between taking care of yourself or taking care of others.

The cost of living crisis shines a light on problems that have always existed, and the workforce crisis in adult social care is one of them. Many people work in the sector because they are caring and compassionate people. The Real Living Wage Foundation has calculated that staff need £9.90 an hour to meet everyday costs, rather than the £8.91 currently issued by government as a “national living wage”. An extra 99p in their hourly rate would show care workers that they are important to society. All of us will one day need them, for ourselves or our family members. We need to be ready to stand up in solidarity and get care workers the pay review they urgently deserve.

There are currently more job vacancies than unemployed people in the UK for the first time since records began. As of April 2022, care workers pay an annual average of £121 to fund their jobs thanks to the Health and Social Care Levy and may lose up £1,035 once combined with changes in Universal Credit and increased living costs (Policy in Practice, 2021).

To help us reach even more social care workers in crisis, please drop us an email at info@thecwc.org.uk to discuss partnering with us and/or donate through the link below:

https://thecareworkerscharity.enthuse.com/profile

Edel Harris

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