1 in 5 residential workers in poverty before cost-of-living crisis

A new report is calling on the UK government to tackle the poverty crisis in the social care sector.

Research published today by the Health Foundation, an independent charity, reveals staff in care homes are more likely to live in poverty than the average UK worker.

person wearing gold wedding band

Before the cost-of-living crisis hit, one in five residential care workers were living in poverty compared to one in eight of all workers.

Care workers are now forced to rely on state support to make up for low income from employment – 20% of the residential workforce drew on universal credit and legacy benefits from 2017-2020 compared to 10% of all workers.

The independent charity also found one in 10 residential care workers experienced food insecurity from 2017–2020, where people lived without reliable access to any healthy substances.

Health Foundation is calling for additional investment and reform for social care to address low pay and poor working conditions.

Authors of the report argue too little is being done in improve social care jobs in England, compared to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They say the government should prioritise improving pay in a fully-funded, comprehensive workforce plan.

Hugh Alderwick, Director of Policy at the Health Foundation said: ‘Social care workers – who are mostly women – play a vital role in society but are among the lowest paid workers in the UK, and experience shocking levels of poverty and deprivation.

‘Many cannot afford enough food, shelter, clothing and other essentials, putting their health at risk.

‘Sustained underfunding of social care has contributed to unacceptable pay and conditions for staff and major workforce shortages, with vacancies in England rising by 52% last year.

‘This reflects political choices. If government values people using and providing social care, it must act to tackle low pay and insecure employment conditions in the sector.’

National survey data from April 2017 to April 2020 was analysed as part of the Health Foundation’s research, but since then various factors including the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have further impacted the social care sector.

New figures from Skills for Care show the social care workforce has shrunk for the first time in almost 10 years despite rising demand and bed congestion in hospitals fuelled by a lack of care places.

According to Skills for Care, England is estimated to need almost 500,000 more care staff by the middle of the next decade and last year there was a net fall of in the workforce of £50,000 people, leaving about 165,000 jobs vacant.

Photo by National Cancer Institute

Words by Emily Whitehouse and Chaminda Jayanetti. 


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