TUC analysis shows that across the UK care workers are earning below the real living wage and are significantly underpaid relative to pay across the rest of the economy, and it has outlined a strategy it says can help rectify the situation.
While central government is the predominant source of public funding for care the organisation of care is devolved to the four nations, which the TUC says has led to significant divergence in how care services are run and funded. Local authorities are responsible for ensuring sufficient provision of social care and childcare in their area.
Specifically, TUC analysis of Coram Family and Childcare trust survey data found that 97 of 102 (95 per cent) English local authorities that responded to the survey said they were having difficulty recruiting staff with the right skills and qualifications – and 81 (80 per cent) said it was “very difficult”. In social care in England, there are currently 152,000 vacancies, equivalent to a 9.9 per cent vacancy rate.
To help fill this gap, the TUC is proposing a new care workforce strategy for England, developed with trade unions and informed by the voice and experiences of care workers. It has set out the critical building blocks to ensure care workers are valued and supported, as a key means of addressing the current staffing crisis and improving access to and quality of social and childcare services.
The core elements as set out in this workforce strategy should be integrated into government policy at the highest levels and led by relevant departments overseeing childcare and social care in England – currently the Department for Education and the Department for Health and Social Care respectively in England. The TUC proposes that the final strategy is agreed through National Partnership Forums in social care and childcare, with full participation of workers and their unions.
Four key focus areas for the national care workforce strategy:
- Worker voices heard and valued including through sectoral collective bargaining arrangements and through the creation of National Partnership Forums in social care and childcare.
- Decent pay and conditions for all care workers through a collectively bargained sectoral agreement on fair pay and decent working conditions, a new sectoral minimum wage of £15 per hour, sick pay, secure contracts and full payment for all time worked, as well as access to efficient labour market enforcement mechanisms.
- Skills, training, and progression pathways with nationally negotiated training frameworks to ensure consistency and quality. These should be aligned with national pay structures to make sure staff are fairly renumerated and can progress as they acquire new skills and knowledge. Training must be accredited and qualifications recognised and transferrable to new employers.
- Protect health, safety, and wellbeing including ensuring that staffing levels are based on care and education needs and not arbitrary ratios. And a zero-tolerance approach to workplace abuse with comprehensive safeguarding and support, notably for staff who may be at increased risk of experiencing abuse and harassment including Black and migrant workers.
To deliver this strategy the TUC is calling for government to take the following enabling actions:
- Provide adequate, long-term treasury funding to deliver the strategy including off-setting 13 years of real terms cuts to local authority budgets and establishing a future funding pathway that will enable local authorities to meet demand and deliver good pay and conditions for the care workforce including a £15 wage floor.
- Support local authorities to move towards public provision of social care and childcare wherever possible and as soon as possible. Where a decision is made to outsource delivery of care services, public funding must come with conditions to ensure that public contracts deliver decent employment standards and high quality care.
- Develop in-depth data and insight to understand current workforce needs in both social care and childcare, predict future trends and support transparency.
- Increase attention given to care services in contingency planning exercises, so that the care workforce role, and requirements such as staffing levels, are better understood before any future pandemic or other disaster.
- Ensure worker voice is central to the implementation of technology used to plan, deliver and monitor care services, including digital technology and AI to ensure that care workers are aware of how technology is being used and for what purpose and that workers are not exploited or discriminated against.