Lisa Williamson says social care workers deserve fair pay for the work they do
Times are tough right now. Everyone is feeling it. But the low paid and those who are already struggling are feeling this even more.
Energy bills are rising rapidly, housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable, fuel has reached a record breaking high, and general living costs are endlessly growing.
Meanwhile, benefits have been cut, and wages are not rising anywhere near inflation. Inflation rose to 7% in March this year, so anyone who has less than 7% wage rise this year has in fact had a pay cut. Research group XpertHR published a report in April, showing the median public sector pay rise as just 1.4%, whilst the Office for National Statistics report that private sector pay rises have reached a 15 year high at 8.2%. The gap continues to increase, yet everyone is below inflation rate.
In social care, it is an endless challenge to pay people what we believe they are worth. Social care is funded by local authorities; our income is set for the hours of support we provide, with a small amount to pay for everything else, beyond front line staff salaries.
Organisations need to pay for non-support roles too; someone needs to process payroll, manage finances, human resources, recruitment, health and safety, IT support, administration, each vital to the ability to deliver support. Never mind the cost of innovation, digital transformation and improving what we do. We are hugely creative in the voluntary sector and can do loads with small amounts of funding.
But to achieve a social care sector on an equal footing to health, education and social work, real investment in pay is the only way to help those we serve and meet the unmet need, which is at unprecedented levels.
The Action Group has and will always be about providing the very best services and life to those we support. As part of this, valuing and rewarding our staff, given staff are the service, through being compassionate, caring, and maintaining a professional relationship with those they support. The Action Group has tried to meet Fair Work aspirations, within limited budgets. We have done this by awarding pay rises, helped by the Scottish Government's commitment to the Living wage, and we now pay at least £10.50 per hour for key workers.
Listening to, empowering, supporting and developing our staff, and lone working protections etc are just some of the many ways we meet Fair Work standards. We also have a free to use Employee Assistance Programme offering counselling and legal advice, as well as an employee benefits programme where staff can access discounts for everyday spending, and a health care plan available at a reduced rate through the Hospital Saturday Fund. We promote and encourage staff to get a Blue Light Card, or to use the SCVO Credit Union. These are even more vital given cost of living pressures. Although we know this is not enough, especially now, but it is the best we can afford to do with the funding we receive.
Ultimately, pay is always going to be the vital factor in recruiting and retaining social care staff. Most people would agree that they would like to be paid more for what they do, and social care is woefully underpaid. There was a glimmer of hope during the pandemic that once it was all over, health and social care staff would have been recognised properly, perhaps people would see that key workers are vital to society, and their pay should reflect that. Sadly, that has not transpired. It was a bit of a long shot, but there was always hope. We will just keep enjoying the memory of the few weeks where everyone clapped for us.
We hope that a National Care Service will lead to structural changes so that social care roles are seen as a professional role that people aspire to. A profession just like nursing or social work; with all of these professions having benefits of better pensions and pay etc. Everyone recognised our key workers as being heroes during the pandemic. We hope a National Care Service will ensure they are paid a hero’s level of pay!
In the meantime, we are delighted that we can now say we are an accredited Living Wage employer, and that we pay all our keyworkers beyond LW rates at £10.50, as a minimum.
For things to change, we need government commitment. We need them to really know and appreciate the work that people in social care roles provide. It is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting work; including sleep overs, weekend working, early morning, and late evenings, for no extra pay. Yes, it is hugely rewarding and the people you support are what makes it worthwhile, but we, and they, would benefit from much higher rates of pay, equal to the NHS. If you want to have any chance of solving the social care recruitment and retention crisis, then (much) better pay, pensions and improved terms and conditions, is the only thing that has any hope of making a difference.
I am really proud to work for The Action Group and I am delighted we have been accredited as a Living Wage Employer. This is a commitment to pay at least the Living Wage to all of our employees. We are very proud to be paying quite significantly above the Living Wage, and we have really good holiday entitlement which is an added bonus!
A total of 86% of employers in Scotland are paying above Living Wage. However, until our government recognises that social care workers deserve fair pay for the work they do, the social care crisis in recruitment and retention crisis will remain. Ultimately the people supported by us and the whole of social care, pay the price of this.
Lisa Williamson is development manager at The Action Group.