Birmingham-homecare workers. Photo: Birmingham-SP
Birmingham-homecare workers, striking against cuts to hours and work patterns. Photo: Birmingham-SP

Glynn Doherty, Social care trade union organiser

Underfunded, under-resourced and under pressure to deliver care to an ever increasing number of people, with an ageing and underpaid workforce, means the social care sector is heading for complete meltdown.

The number of vacant posts in adult social care is the highest on record while filled posts have dropped by 50,000 – the first ever drop in the number of social care workers. Vacancy rates are at 11% – twice the national average. Zero-hour contracts make up a huge 24% of all social care jobs, compared to 3% in the jobs market as a whole.

These are the headline findings in ‘The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’, published by Skills for Care. The comprehensive annual report highlights the parlous state of social care and the desperation felt by service users and providers alike.

The cost-of-living crisis means care workers are moving to better-paid jobs (almost all jobs are better paid!), compounding recruitment and retention difficulties.

Four out of every five jobs in the wider economy pay more than the median for care workers. This was £9.02 an hour in 2021/22. That year, the real-terms hourly rate fell by 1.5%.

This year, almost half of all social care workers saw their pay rise to £9.50 an hour in April 2022 to keep them in line with the minimum wage. However, their real-terms pay has almost certainly fallen even further. Fuel price inflation for domiciliary care workers, who travel between clients using their own vehicles, has added to the pay cut.

The report reveals the public sector is now responsible for delivering less than one-sixth of social care in England. Local authorities account for 7%, as does the NHS. A further 7% is accounted for by the estimated 90,000 workers (in 120,000 posts) employed by individual direct payment recipients.

The remaining 79% of posts in adult social care were for independent employers. Almost three quarters of these were in the private, for-profit sector, the rest in voluntary/charity establishments.

The crisis in social care needs an urgent trade union response. The demand, highlighted on the TUC’s website, for a £15-an-hour minimum wage must become more than a slogan. The big three unions representing social care workers – Unite, Unison and GMB – should combine to submit pay claims to every employer in the sector and use this as a launch pad for a mass organising and recruitment campaign. The unions must also demand the nationalisation of the industry. That campaign needs to include standing trade union candidates in council and parliamentary elections on such a programme.