NHS leaders call for £10.50 an hour minimum wage for social care workers

NHS leaders warn the social care sector is at risk of losing staff without the introduction of a new minimum wage.

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NHS leaders are urging the government to enact a national minimum wage for care workers of £10.50 per hour, the NHS Confederation reports.

They issue a warning that the social care industry in England will lose any residual competitive edge and continue to lose personnel without a raise above the hourly rate observed across many other industries, including that paid to staff working in supermarkets and throughout retail.

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Healthcare leaders have sent a letter to the Prime Minister on behalf of the NHS Confederation stating that their social care colleagues lack “the financial headroom to respond to the labour market pressures they are facing.”

Health leaders worry that their social care colleagues are faced with the impossible task of trying to fill significant staff vacancies with their hands tied behind their backs at a time when many people are experiencing a spiralling cost of living crisis and numerous industries are reporting difficulties filling vacancies.

They also raise the legitimate concern that the NHS’s higher pay rates for comparable jobs might result in an increasing pay gap between heath and social care.

Prior to last year, the average hourly income for a care worker was 13p more than that of those employed in the sales and retail industry. However, due to a downward trend in salaries, social care employees were now paid about 21p less per hour than those employed in supermarkets.

Wales and Scotland have already enacted minimum wages that are close to or somewhat more than £10 per hour, but England lags behind these two UK countries.

NHS officials worry that the ripple effect of a social care sector with less personnel may worsen waiting times in the health system and increase demand for NHS services.

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The absence of social care services and the personnel required to deliver such services will result in a perfect storm. Due to the absence of social care accessible to patients after release, hospitals will ultimately have little choice but to postpone patient discharge and keep patients in the hospital longer than necessary.

When their social requirements cannot be satisfied, those who require social services rather than medical treatment will have little choice but to go to their GP or the emergency room (A&E). Even worse, without enough social workers to assist, their condition will worsen, necessitating medical attention.

Although the Government has acknowledged the need for a workforce strategy for social care and taken steps to add care workers to the list of shortage occupations to aid in overseas recruitment, these actions have not been sufficient to stop social care employees from leaving the service in large numbers.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Healthcare leaders are sounding the alarm and sending a clear message to Government that unless social care workers are paid a national care worker minimum wage, there is at real risk of irreparable damage to the sector.

“We are seeing the impact of this heightened pressure across the NHS already, with far too many patients having to stay in hospital longer than they need to due to inadequate social care provision locally.

“We urgently need the Government to take decisive action to fully fund this minimum wage increase which should be distributed through local authorities, to ensure funding reaches the front line, does not impact self-funders’ cost of care, and alleviates these severe staffing challenges.

“Without this life jacket, both the NHS and social care could face an endless winter of people being failed by the very systems that should be there to support them at their most vulnerable.”

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