Investigation into social home care pay rates across the UK shows that jobs are being advertised below the real living wage (RLW) despite councils signing up to UNISON’S ethical charter committing them to paying at least that rate.

Trafford council and Manchester council respond to accusations that home care workers are being underpaid in their jurisdictions.

Home care positions in Trafford are being advertised below the real living wage (RLW), despite the council signing up to Unison’s ethical care charter, which commits to paying home care workers at least the RLW. While Manchester council is only a partial signatory to the Unison charter, its commitment to the Manchester Living Wage seems to be similarly undermined by the rates on offer in adverts for home care jobs in the city.

These revelations into inadequate home care pay come at a time when public concern about the crisis in care is growing. Seventy five percent of respondents to a Fawcett Society poll said home care workers, those who support vulnerable people in their homes, should get the RLW. And despite a House of Lords report declaring social care funding a “national scandal” in 2019, Rishi Sunak’s widely criticised failure to allocate extra resources to social care in the last budget means the scandal continues.

Data gathered by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) shows that between October 2020 and April 2020, over 7,000 home care jobs were advertised on that included rates below the real living wage across 189 of the 205 local authorities across Britain.  Outside London, the RLW currently stands at £9.50/hr.

The difference between the real, national and Manchester living wage

The real living wage outside of London currently stands at £9.50/hr – the London rate is £10.85/hr – and is calculated every year by the Living Wage Foundation using living costs to determine the rate set.

The RLW is different from the national living wage set by the government which is currently £8.91/hr for over 23s across the UK and does not use living costs to determine the rate. It is updated yearly and prior to April 2021 it was set at £8.72/hr.

The Manchester Living Wage is equivalent to the RLW, and since 2018 the council have contracted care providers to provide a living wage to all staff when delivering care to citizens of Manchester who qualify for a package of care under the Care Act 2014.

From this longlist of adverts, 479 were matched to care providers who had home care contracts with the 43 local authority signatories to the ethical care charter (ECC). In the Trafford council area, where the council signed the charter in 2019, there were nine vacancies advertised with rates under the RLW within the local authorities borders, from three separate companies with home care contracts with Trafford council.

Compassionate Care Ltd was identified in four separate adverts on offering home care positions in Trafford with a minimum salary of £9.25 and a maximum salary ranging from £9.25/hr to £9.75/hr.

Creative Support Ltd was also identified in four adverts offering home care positions in Trafford with a maximum salary ranging from £8.80/hr to £9.10/hr.

Medacs Healthcare plc had one advert offering a home care position in Trafford with a minimum rate offered of £9.00/hr and a maximum of £10.00/hr. Across the UK this large provider, which had a turnover of £92m in 2020, had 159 adverts in total with minimum wages listed below the RLW (with the lowest rate listed at £8.72hr) with 10 of those adverts in Manchester. The highest paid director at Medacs earned £383,000 in 2020, which was £26,000 more than he earned the year before. A care worker at Medacs paid £8.72/hr for a 40 hr week would be estimated to earn £18,000 a year.

Care worker Carol Thompson said, “It’s okay for us to have all these responsibilities, but they’re not recognising it in the pay”. Read more of Carol’s story

Carol Thompson, a care worker in Lancashire, told the Bureau that the added pressures of the pandemic had left her company relying on agency staff who were likely to arrive late to appointments. Low pay meant many of those with experience were leaving the sector, she said, and companies were finding it hard to recruit replacements.

“Staff are starting to look at the situation and thinking … you might as well be working in a supermarket you get paid more, with no responsibilities. I care for three adults with learning disabilities … and I’m responsible for them in all ways. It’s okay for us to have all these responsibilities, but they’re not recognising it in the pay,” she said. Carol is also paid under the living wage, at £8.91 an hour.

Source: TBIJ

These ads do not prove that the people employed were used on council commissioned work: they could have been placed on privately procured work; but the Kings Fund think-tank estimates that around 75% of all social home care work is council commissioned. The Meteor approached the three companies named above to ask them whether they employed people on rates below the RLW on home care work contracted by the council in Trafford.

Medacs Healthcare and Compassionate Care did not respond to our questions by time of publication. A spokesperson from Creative Support Ltd said they pay all staff in line with the national living wage and that the jobs advertised in Trafford were “Supported Living Services” and said that these did not fall under the Unison EEC. Unison told the Bureau that the line between home care and Supported Living can be blurry. The Creative Support spokesperson went on to say:

“We greatly appreciate the roles that our staff undertake and we agree that social care is an underpaid sector for the incredible work that people do. Wherever the funding is sufficient we are delighted to pay Real Living Wage and we continue to offer pay at or above NLW with additional benefits wherever possible. As a not for profit provider our aim is to maximise the funding available for frontline staff.”

Councils such as Trafford commission home care providers, paying an hourly homecare rate from which the provider must take staff costs and other running expenses. Each year, the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHA) calculates what this hourly rate needs to be to allow the provider to pay the RLW to a care worker.  Currently outside London, that hourly rate stands at a minimum of £20.75/hour.  The TBIJ using this average homecare rate paid by councils, and comparing it against the UKHA figure of £20.75/hr, found 94% of English LAs were paying too little on average to allow providers to pass on the RLW.

The average hourly rate paid by Trafford council for the provision of homecare provided for the council by an external provider in 2019-20 was £15.80/hr.

A Trafford council spokesperson, responding to the TBIJ’s findings into home care pay in Trafford, said:

“Carers do an incredible job of providing support and assistance to our residents. This is a major reason why we signed up to Unison’s Ethical Care Charter in June 2019 so that carers would be better paid, receive sick pay and expenses, and be respected as a key worker. This is a major initiative, which we are working towards implementing over a 3-4 year period.

“As a part of that initiative, we launched a new homecare framework in April after consultation with our care providers. This states that we wish to work with providers where staff are paid at least the national living wage and we are working with providers to ensure staff are paid the real living wage.

“The frameworks also states that staff working for providers should be paid for travel time and any costs incurred, and are also paid sick pay and for training. As part of the tender process, we have the ability to request evidence of this, for instance through employment contracts or payslips…

“Furthermore, in order to ensure that providers are appropriately remunerated to allow them to meet these conditions, we have significantly increased our homecare rates for 2021-22.”

The average hourly rate paid by Manchester council for the provision of homecare provided for the council by an external provider in 2019-20 was £15.89/hr.

Care worker Emma said, “The amount of carers and staff that are on anti-depressants is unbelievable…”. Read more of Emma’s story.

Emma (not her real name), who works for a care provider commissioned by Hull City Council, said:

“I just don’t see a way out unless it’s from central government. We’ve tried standing together, I wrote to Alan Johnson MP. I got a letter that I actually ripped up in disgust. He basically just dismissed it as if there was no problem. No one will listen.

“At the moment we are so short staffed that the office staff are having to become carers. They only get paid £9 per hour in the office, and get no more pay for having to hit the ground running as a care worker. No fuel allowance, or travel time. The care provider claims the full amount from the council and don’t pass any more on to the office staff who now have to run around as carers, it’s just wrong.

“The constant bullying culture and out of hours harassment is exhausting. The amount of carers and staff that are on anti-depressants is unbelievable. We are constantly bombarded all the time with negative comments from everywhere, including service users unhappy with the service.”

“We’ve all said, if you get £1000 pound for the month. At least £250 of that has to be put away for your petrol. Which leaves £750 pounds to pay your mortgage, all your bills and everything else for the month. It’s so disheartening.

“You’re never in one area, you’re just all over the place. A few years ago we asked about money for petrol, they replied by saying that was what the extra 0.30p was for in our hourly pay.” (She is paid = £9.30perhour).

“The commissioning process is a race to get on the council’s preferred providers list which means they give you service users. Everybody wants to get the clients. A company bids, every year, how much they would charge the council for each package. So basically, the companies try to go as low as possible to outdo each other. Which means less money for actually caring. So the lower the prices, the better the chances of getting on that list, the better chance of get clients from the council. Care providers are agreeing crazy contracts – if they can fulfil them financially or not.”

Source: TBIJ

Unison put its ethical care charter in place to provide a set of commitments for local authorities to help them put in place “minimum standards that will protect the dignity and quality of life for those people and the workers who care for them”. Produced in 2012, it is split into three stages, and allows councils to sign up incrementally to these stages. The payment of at least the RLW and coverage of workers with an occupational sick pay scheme are the requirements made by the third stage of the charter. UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:

“Social care is a deeply flawed system in urgent need of reform. The blame for all that is wrong must be laid solely at the government’s door. Ministers have failed to fund the system or make the necessary reform and so now care is in the grip of a damaging crisis.

“With the sector starved of resources, many councils are forced to commission care at bargain basement rates, resulting in poverty pay for highly skilled and dedicated staff. But despite the odds being stacked against them, many local authorities have tried to do the right thing by getting on board with our ethical care charter.

“If some councils don’t appear to be meeting their charter commitments, UNISON will investigate and try to iron out what’s been going wrong.

“But that’s not to let the government off the hook. Ministers must stop with the feet-dragging and share their plans for the changes that have long been promised.

“Top of the list should be the cash to lift thousands of care staff – who’ve more than proved their worth during the pandemic – on to the real living wage. A proper pay rise would at a stroke make care a more attractive career option and help fill the thousands of vacancies currently putting such pressure on services, staff and the vulnerable.”

Manchester city council is only a partial signatory to Unison’s ethical care charter, and so has not committed to the third stage of requiring home care providers to pay the RLW. However, as part of the 2018 Our Manchester Home Care tender, the council has required home care providers to pay the Manchester Living Wage, described as equivalent to the RLW by a spokesperson for Manchester council.  In the data collected by the Bureau, Manchester was identified as the work location for forty-one adverts on (between Oct 2020 and Apr 2021) offering home care positions with minimum salaries ranging from £8.00/hr to £9.30/hr and maximum salaries ranging from £8.80/hr to £10.00/hr. The Bureau identified 20 of those ads as being from care providers used by the council.

The average hourly rate paid by Manchester council for the provision of home care provided for the council by an external provider in 2019-20 was £15.89/hr, which is nearly £5 under the UKHA figure of £20.75/hr needed to allow homecare providers to pass on the RLW to its employees.

The Meteor asked Manchester council whether it contracted work to home care providers who pay below the RLW, and if it has any plans to ensure care workers in Manchester are paid the RLW as a minimum. Councillor Joanna Midgley, Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Health and Care, said:

“Home care workers play an invaluable role in looking after vulnerable people in their own homes and it is right that they are recognised and rewarded for the work that they do.  There is a clear expectation that all commissioned homecare providers in Manchester pay the Manchester Living Wage, a proper living wage so that we can attract and retain people in this vital role.

“During the recent 2018 Our Manchester Home Care tender, the council contractually committed home care providers to pay the Manchester living Wage for the duration of that contract.”

A spokesperson for Manchester council explained that the Manchester Living Wage is equivalent to the RLW, and that they have contracted care providers to provide a living wage to all staff when delivering care to citizens of Manchester who qualify for a package of care under the Care Act 2014. Manchester council in its response did not dispute the figure of £15.89/hr being the average paid for home care provided by the council by an external provider in 2019-20.

The council spokesperson went on to say that the council has a number of checks and balances in place to ensure this obligation is met, but that it is unable to control the contracting arrangements in the private market.

The King’s Fund think tank estimates almost 75% of home care to be council-commissioned, with the remaining 25% privately commissioned. Four other councils also reported back to the Bureau that they had measures written into contracts with providers that requiring them to pay council funded care workers above the RLW. However when the Bureau asked care providers about the jobs advertised below this rate, they were told that the companies did not differentiate roles between private and council funded clients.

Low pay for care workers is often paired with the precarity of zero hours contracts: a 2020 workforce report showed that 56% of care workers in domiciliary care services were on zero-hour contracts. While government inaction on social care reform continues, the “national scandal” of social care funding is set to continue.

To read the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report – click here .

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  • Conrad Bower

    Reporting interests include social justice, the environment, and human rights. A staunch advocate for the scientific method and rational debate for understanding the world - he believes only greater public understanding and engagement with the problems affecting society, can produce the progressive change we need. Co-founder of The Meteor.

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