Adult social care is facing a growing workforce crisis which could be plugged by introducing the a real living wage for the sector, new analysis has revealed.
The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) North says adult social care is facing a growing workforce crisis which is undermining the sustainability of the system and quality of care across the north of England.
The think tank is calling for the government to use its upcoming Green Paper on social care to introduce better wages for employees to address the growing workforce shortage, which is expected to be exacerbated when the UK leaves the EU in March next year.
The IPPR analysis found that chronic underfunding and endemic low pay has led to an escalating social care workforce crisis.
However, it says introducing a real living wage would mean a pay rise averaging more than £1,000 for 160,000 workers in the north.
Since 2010, government funding for local authorities has fallen by half. As a result, while demand for social care has been rising, spending on social care fell by 7% in Yorkshire and the Humber, 13% in the north west and 18% in the north east between 2009 and 2016.
These cuts have led to social care being commissioned at rock-bottom prices. Local authorities in the north east pay just £14.15 per hour on average for homecare, well below the UK Homecare Association’s recommended minimum price of £18.01 per hour.
Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at IPPR, said: “The treatment of the social care workforce is a national scandal. They provide a vital public service to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. But they face endemic low pay and insecurity.
“This is not just bad for care workers; it is bad for the quality of care too and it is undermining the sustainability of the whole system.
“We will only tackle the social care workforce crisis and we will only improve quality of care if we improve pay and conditions in social care.”
With chronic underfunding and with local authorities commissioning care at low costs, outsourced providers of social care have competed by minimising labour costs, resulting in endemic low pay.
The sector alone accounts for 10% of workers paid below the real living wage in the north and 31% of care workers in the region are on zero hours contracts.
Given the low pay and poor job quality in social care, the sector is struggling to recruit and retain the workers it needs to meet rapidly rising demand, with 25,000 unfilled vacancies in the north and 100,000 across England.
The latest analysis suggests that on current trends, by 2028, there will be 350,000 vacancies in social care across the country, or 400,000 if government ends freedom of movement.
The report recommends that national insurance contributions should be increased by a penny on every pound to provide the social care sector with a long-term funding settlement.
But it also says the government must provide an extra £129m in funding to local authorities in the north, which would be conditional on them negotiating with providers to ensure all care workers receive at least the real living wage.
The IPPR also wants to see sectoral collective bargaining in social care as already happens in the NHS. This would involve establishing a sector council to bring together employers, trade unions and government to negotiate a minimum and legally binding set of pay and terms and conditions across the sector
The real living wage is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation based on the cost of living. It currently stands at £9, far higher than the government’s National Living Wage of £7.83.