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Tory minister Kit Malthouse has blamed the privatisation of the social care sector for social care workers missing out on a pay rise amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the government announced a boost in wages for almost 900,000 public sector worker for dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, including doctors, teachers and police officers.
But ministers came under fire from unions and opposition MPs for failing to increase the pay of social care workers.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy – who was echoed by the TUC – said the government must increase local authority funding to ensure an increase in wages for social care workers, calling them “heroes” who had been dealing with “an absolute crisis in care homes”.
Meanwhile, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham tweeted: “So a pay rise for ‘members of the judiciary and senior civil servants’. But no mention of care workers.
“I wonder how that must make them feel today?”
But policing minister Kit Malthouse blamed the privatisation of the care sector for the government’s inability to boost care workers’ pay.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “The vast majority of social care workers are paid in the private sector so our ability to influence pay rates there is limited.”
Asked whether the government could set special minimum wage limits for social care workers and give local authorities the funds to make up the difference between that and their private sector salaries, Malthouse said ministers were focusing on the national minimum wage instead.
“What we have done is raise the level of the minimum wage very significantly over the last few years to get it up towards the £10.50 mark. That, we hope, will push through into these private sector jobs.
“Everybody looks at people who work in social care during coronavirus and thinks they have done a fantastic job in very, very difficult circumstances.
“But that’s the mechanism by which we think we can increase pay in that sector.”
The move by the government has angered many in the care sector and beyond, who pointed to images of ministers “clapping for carers” during the pandemic.
Edel Harris, chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said it was “an insult” for the government to suggest that minimum wage was fair pay for social care workers.
“The government shouldn’t suggest that there is little they can do about it when it is their responsibility to set national policy and funding levels,” she said.
“Support workers have been doing extraordinary work supporting the most vulnerable in our society in challenging circumstances throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Some have sadly lost their lives and yet the social care sector has had to fight every step of the way for parity with NHS colleagues, including when it comes to access to testing and PPE.”
Beyond gestures such as the care badge and clapping for carers, support workers have seen “little recognition for their incredible work on the frontline during this crisis”, Harris said.
“It’s the government’s responsibility to legislate and properly fund support worker pay – they must be valued and paid on par with healthcare workers.”
Labour’s Wes Streeting tweeted: “The Tories will clap for carers but still won’t pay them fairly”.
But Malthouse said that apart from “nationalising the entire thing”, the minimum wage rate was the best tool the government had to recognise the efforts of care workers.
“Nationalising the entire thing” is exactly what former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called for.
The Guardian reported that the influential backbencher is expected to use a speech on Wednesday to call for the creation of a national care service, arguing that the Covid-19 crisis has exposed severe cracks in the system.
Figures from the LSE suggest that there has been a significant shift towards privatisation in the social care sector in recent years.
Writing in 2016, public policy professor Bob Hudson said that 64% of residential and nursing home beds were provided by local authorities or the NHS in 1979. This had dropped to 6% by 2012.
Meanwhile, Hudson said that just 11% of domiciliary care was provided by local authorities by 2012, compared to 95% in 1993.
According to Full Fact, the Department of Health and Social Care spent around £9.2bn on purchasing healthcare from "independent sector providers" in 2018/19 – around 7.3% of the department's day-to-day budget.