Proposed new minimum wage for care workers

The NHS Confederation has written to the government urging it to introduce a new national minimum wage rate for all health and social care workers in England. This follows increasing concerns that widespread staff shortages will negatively impact patient care. NHS leaders, headed up by Matthew Taylor, warn that, without an increase above the current minimum rate (£9.50 for 23+ year olds), the social care sector in England will lose any remaining competitive edge and continue to haemorrhage staff.

Several organisations in other industries, such as retail and hospitality, offer pay rates above the national minimum wage, with many voluntarily paying staff the Real Living Wage (currently £11.05 per hour in London and £9.90 across the rest of the UK). As such, workers may be more likely to leave demanding and often difficult care roles, for higher pay in less stressful working environments.

Similarly, it has been highlighted that, a decade ago, the average hourly wage for a care worker was 13p more than those working in the sales and retail sector. But, they are now earning 21p less than supermarket staff, in a significant reversal of remuneration entitlements. This being said, counterparts in Scotland and Wales have already recognised this issue and implemented minimum wage rates for social care staff which is near to or well above £10 per hour, causing England to further fall behind national standards.

As living costs continue to soar, it’s understandable that care workers may be more inclined to look for jobs in other industries which offer higher rates of pay and a better work-life balance. The push from NHS leaders signifies the extreme pressure the care sector is under, and the widespread issues they will face if they continue to suffer from high turnover and poor attraction rates. It has already mentioned that, if left with only skeleton staffing, the waiting time in the NHS will be exacerbated and demand for services will be higher.

It further states that hospitals will be left with little alternative but to delay the discharge of patients, since there won’t be social care services available to continue their care. This will also have a knock-on impact on people who need social care rather than health care, since they will be forced to seek treatment from their GP or A&E, if their needs cannot be met by social care services.

Whilst pay is an important factor in the recruitment and retention of care staff, employers in the sector may also want to consider implementing measures which effectively support employees’ mental health and emotional wellbeing. Doing so can help reduce absences levels and contribute towards improved motivation and satisfaction rates, due to staff feeling recognised, valued and assisted by their employer. Similarly, employees are looking to their employer to improve flexibility and facilitate an effective work-life balance. Whilst it’s clear that most care roles won’t be able to be fulfilled from home, organisations can introduce other flexible working arrangements. This might include working compressed hours, or reduced hours or days per week.

It remains to be seen whether the government will implement the proposals. Others have called for all employers to be liable for paying staff the Real Living Wage, which may help to level the playing field amongst industries and prevent health and social care workers leaving the sector in search of higher paying roles elsewhere.

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