Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner, who was a homecare worker before becoming an MP, has written this for the Northern Echo as part of its in-depth look at issues affecting the care sector

I’m delighted that The Northern Echo has been speaking to frontline care workers about their experiences during the pandemic. All too often, the voices of those on the frontline are ignored by government Ministers in Whitehall.

I want to put on the record my thanks to the care workers and other key workers who have put their lives on the line to get us through this crisis. Whilst we’ve been at home you’ve been at work, putting others before yourselves and risking your lives to help others. As far as I’m concerned you are our country’s heroes.

As someone who was a homecare worker myself before becoming an MP I know first-hand that care workers were underpaid and undervalued before the Covid crisis struck. The fact that three in four care workers do not even earn the living wage was disgraceful even before this pandemic hit us, but now it is simply unconscionable.

A pay rise for our social care heroes is well overdue, and it really is the very least that they deserve after all they have done for us.

Last spring, communities from Teeside to Torquay came together to clap for our carers from our front doorsteps. But claps don’t pay the bills. It should be a source of shame for Tory Ministers that the very same people who have been putting their lives on the line to care for others throughout this crisis are being paid poverty wages and are struggling to support themselves and their own families at the end of each week working on the frontline.

Labour is demanding a pay rise for our care workers to at least £10 an hour, putting £50 a week into the pocket of a care worker on the minimum wage. In the North East, there are 42,000 care workers working on the frontline in the independent sector who would see their pay increase by £3,000 a year.

It isn’t just morally wrong that our care workers aren’t being paid a wage that they can live on, but it is also holding back our economy too. Every extra pound in the pocket of an underpaid care worker can help to support local businesses, our local high streets and will help to grow our economy.

Not only will a pay rise of £50 a week help a care worker to make ends meet, pay the bills and put food on the table, putting money in their pocket will support the local businesses that provide jobs for other people in the local economy.

When I did a ‘virtual visit’ on Zoom with care workers in the North East earlier this year I heard from a care worker called James, who caught Covid at work when he his mask came off when he looking after an elderly man who had taken a fall. James spent a fortnight in intensive care and almost died. His doctors told him they were shocked he survived.

But James had to go back to work after he was discharged from intensive care because he couldn’t make ends meet. It’s almost a year since the Health Secretary admitted that he couldn’t survive on Statutory Sick Pay of £94 a week, so why is he expecting care workers and other key workers to be able to feed their families without proper support if they need to do the right thing and isolate at home?

As well as poverty wages and a lack of proper sick pay, the government must also end the scandal of homecare workers being paid less than the minimum wage because they aren’t paid for travel time between individual care visits. If someone works an eight-hour day they should be paid for an eight-hour day – that is not complicated and it is not too much to ask for the Government to uphold the law when it comes to the minimum wage.

On his very first day in office the Prime Minister promised us a plan to fix the crisis in social care. 18 months later we are still waiting for this plan, and despite the Prime Minister fell over himself to clap for our carers when the TV cameras were rolling they are still waiting for the pay rise that really is the very least they deserve.