The Northern Echo is looking at a series of special reports looking at the fragile state of our care sector. In the second in the series we look at how low pay is affecting the number of people working in the sector

CALLS have been made for carers to be paid on a par with nurses in a bid to increase the number of people working in the sector.

Research by Skills for Care has found the adult social care sector in England needs to fill about 112,000 job vacancies on any given day.

Clare Williams, Northern regional secretary for Unison, said retention of staff was an issue for many care homes due to pay.

She said: "It’s difficult for many in the sector to retain staff because pay is not good, people don’t feel valued and they are not being seen as a skilled workforce."

She added: "What covid has highlighted is that the jobs people do to look after human beings our loved ones, have been the lowest paid, lowest value and lowest recognition of public services and its time to invest and recognise them."

She added the issue around pay for people told to self-isolate was “critical”.

The Department of Health and Social Care has made £1.1bn available through the infection control fund so care workers do not have to lose pay while self-isolating, but Ms Williams said it was not clear that the money was always getting to workers.

She said: “People are being put in really difficult positions. If you’re being told to self-isolate but you can’t afford to live and pay bills and feed your family then that’s a difficult position to be in."

Meanwhile, Mike Padgham, of North Yorkshire-based Independent Care Group (ICG), which represents independent providers, said care workers should be paid on a par to nurses. Calling for a national care service, he added: "If we want to pay more, it’s going to cost more.

“We need to pay carers a decent wage but it’s not all on the employer.

“Some are making a profit but the majority are making a living."

Training and education specialists, Learning Curve Group, based in Spennymoor, County Durham, said the single biggest change it would make to the health and social care sector – which accounts for half of its work – would be a wages restructure.

Leaders said health and social workers operate in a challenging environment that requires high levels of knowledge and skills, yet the national average wage is just £8.50 per hour and 48 per cent of domiciliary care sector workers still operate on zero hours contracts.

Steve Morris, group commercial director, said: “The issue is not one provider paying significantly less than another, but it is more the fact that wages aren’t sufficient for the sector.

“There are some good well-paid jobs though, especially as people move up, and great training opportunities.

“It is a growing sector as we are an ageing population, medicine and technology advance to help us live longer our bodies don’t keep up so more of us need increasing care so there will be more and more opportunities for management jobs.

“But we have a lot of people who come into the sector, get trained and then they’ve left before they take that step up.

“Retention is something we’ve got to fix in the sector and wages is a big part of it."

“These are tough jobs and you’re unlikely to be a millionaire coming into the health and social care sector but it is work which gives you a really good feeling because you’re doing something that makes a difference to people’s lives.”

Mr Morris said health and social care is not a “get rich quick” industry and that Government intervention is needed to ensure better pay for staff.

He added: “We fund the NHS with Government money, potentially we need a blurring of the lines between the NHS and adult social care. One option is to look at the Government to better support the sector and possibly do something clever, some sort of intervention that could pay money to staff rather than just care providers.”

Tomorrow, the Northern Echo will be looking at how the sector could be reformed and the case for a national care service.