Migration Committee: Social care wage should be 39% higher than living wage

The government has been urged to pay higher wages to ‘Cinderella’ social service workers – or risk an accelerated exodus to better-paying jobs in ‘warehouses, supermarkets and online retailers’.

That’s the message from Unison following a hard-hitting report from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released yesterday, which recommends a possible minimum wage rate of 39% above the National Living Wage (NLW).

The MAC also recommends that overseas staff should be permanently eligible for the health and care worker visa, after the government granted temporary permission in February this year.

He was commissioned by the government last July to carry out an independent review of the adult welfare sector and the impact that the end of free movement has had on it.

The committee’s investigations revealed a number of issues – pay rates being the most important.

On this subject, the report did not hesitate, stating: “The persistent underfunding of the care sector by successive governments underlies almost all labor problems in social care.

“A higher salary is a prerequisite for attracting and retaining social workers and they should be paid for the hours they work.”

MAC added: “We recognize the anger many in the industry have felt at workers who are seen as ‘low-skilled’.

“We categorically disagree that care work is low-skilled; although some basic technical skills can be acquired through training, other skills are essential attributes for providing good quality care, such as emotional and physical resilience, communication, planning and organization, problem solving skills as well as understanding the needs of individuals.”

The committee made a host of recommendations to overhaul the sector, including:

  • A fully funded minimum rate of pay for care workers which is above the NLW – initially £10.50 per hour, rising to £11.53 and then to £13.21
  • Pay social workers for all hours worked, including sleep and travel
  • Removal of immigration skill fees for all health and care worker visas
  • A review of policies relating to overseas skilled worker routes to the sector
  • A waiver of settlement fees or lower fees for workers who spend the full five years working in nursing or care on the Health and Care Worker Visa
  • The government will work with councils to allow care agencies to sponsor specific social workers
  • Keep social workers on the shortage occupations list, which flags particular jobs that can be bolstered by foreign employees.

MAC said it “did not believe” immigration policy was the cause or the solution to all or most of the workforce problems in social services, but “immigration could potentially help alleviate some of the difficulties”.

Gavin Edwards, head of social care at Unison, said: “The main cause of the care worker crisis is obvious. Wages are too low to attract and retain workers. Care sector employers are losing people in mass to warehouses, supermarkets and online retailers able to pay far more for less stressful work.It’s no wonder there are shortages.

“Ministers have cynically made it difficult for highly skilled and poorly paid overseas healthcare workers to work in the UK, even though the sector needs workers. This report is another wake-up call for a government that has been dozing behind the wheel for decades.

“No bluster, no slogans, the government must adopt the MAC’s recommendations now, so that the Cinderella care sector can attract the new recruits it needs and also retain experienced staff.”

In a written statement to parliament, Home Secretary Kevin Foster, who commissioned the report, said the government would “consider the report and its recommendations carefully before deciding what action to take next”.

Michael A. Bynum