'It's degrading': Most home care jobs offer less than Real Living Wage, investigation finds

14-hour shift with pay below the living wage, carers are struggling to cope, Paul Brand reports

Home care workers - who risked their lives throughout the coronavirus pandemic - have been left struggling to clothe their children, feed their families, and have mental health struggles, due to the low pay they receive, an investigation by ITV News, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Mirror has learned.

Despite playing an essential role by caring for society's most vulnerable inside their homes, many home carers across Britain are being paid below the Real Living Wage (RLW), even though dozens of councils have pledged to pay at least that rate.

Carers can't afford to wait any longer for reform, Paul Brand says

Our investigation has found 60% of all home care jobs advertised in the past six months offered a wage which would not be enough to live on.

It amounts to more than 7,000 advertised jobs offering less than the RLW of £9.50 an hour in the UK and £10.85 in London.

Charmaine Pearson, a home carer who works near Leeds, told ITV News it’s a “bit degrading” to realise how little she is paid for the crucial role she plays compared to what many people earn in much less demanding jobs.

“The only way to cover your living costs in this profession is by sacrificing your own health and your family to work ridiculous hours,” said one carer.

The rate of low paid care jobs being advertised is even worse in Wales, with 75% of care work ads there offering below the RLW, despite a recent pledge from the Welsh Government that all carers would receive at least that much.

Kiri Williams, 38, from Caerphilly, was forced to leave a job she loved because of stresses brought on by her low wages.

“I have known carers who have had to hand back calls because they couldn’t afford the petrol to get there,” she said.

“Carers ask each other to borrow money – people have asked me, and I have had to do the same.

"In the end, it all caught up with me.

"I became unwell with stress, anxiety and exhaustion, and was signed off work.”

Kiri, a carer based in Caerphilly, was unable to stay in her role due to the low pay. Credit: Jo Haycock/TBIJ

Most care in the UK is paid for at least in part by local authorities.

Of the 205 responsible for social care, 189 had jobs offering less than the RLW, which is meant to cover costs of living, bills with some set aside for emergencies, such as urgent dental work.

The Real Living Wage is the minimum amount employers are advised to pay their employees by a number of charities, while the minimum wage - £8.91 for adults - is the lowest firms are legally allowed to pay their staff.

Forty-three local authorities have signed a Unison’s Ethical Care Charter in which they commit to paying carers the RLW, but analysis found jobs in 37 of those areas offering less than that, with a number offering as little as £8 an hour, less than minimum wage for those over 21.

The essential work of supporting the elderly, disabled, people with chronic illness, mental health problems, and those with learning disabilities saw the public thank the industry last summer with a weekly ‘Clap for Carers’ - but for many it simply wasn’t enough.

One carer labelled the gesture “absolutely pathetic”, while Sian Stockham, from Abergavenny said: “I’m living from pay cheque to pay cheque. Clapping doesn’t pay my bills.”

The role home carers play in the lives of their clients is absolutely vital; they provide medical care such as ensuring the right drugs are taken at the right time, intimate care, such as bathing and dressing – they're also often responsible for continence management.

For some people, their care workers are the only human contact they will have in a day.

Gerald Hall, who receives care three times a day after suffering a stroke on top of already having Parkinson’s Disease, told ITV News how much his carers mean to him.

“I couldn’t do the things that they do,” he said through tears: “I appreciate that.”

Charmaine, one of his carers, told ITV News it the satisfaction of helping others that keeps her in the job – not the money.

“You end up like one little family,” she said.

“It’s what I love doing - my job is everything to me, I’ve always been like that. I’ve always wanted to support people and care the best I can.”

Asked if she feels valued by society, Charmaine said: “No, but I am by my clients and that’s what keeps me going.”

Care recipient Gerald on how much his carers mean to him:

Most people in the UK think home carers should get the real living wage, according to polling by the Fawcett Society, but analysis of councils’ paperwork by TBIJ shows some would need to find millions more in their budgets in order to pay that amount.

In 2019, well before the pandemic began Boris Johnson promised to "fix the crisis in social care", but was criticised in May this year for failing to include in his government’s legislative agenda any plan to address the huge funding gap estimated to be at £10 billion a year.

Responding to findings from the joint investigation, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our carers have done an absolutely remarkable job, especially during this pandemic.”

He added: “I would like to see a fairer settlement for carers, and that is part of our plan on social care to have a more long-term sustainable solution.”

But Mr Javid would not reveal when pressed how the necessary additional funding would be found.

Asked if a “fairer settlement” for carers would mean a payrise, the health secretary said: “I want a plan that is a fairer outcome for carers and it’s got to be more than just that.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Deputy Leader who was a care worker before becoming an MP, said the rate of pay for most carers is a “national disgrace”.

“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should hang their heads in shame that the care workers they clapped on their doorsteps for a photo opportunity last year are risking their lives to care for others for poverty wages.”

She added: “The prime minister promised us a plan to fix social care. He needs to put his money where his mouth is and start treating our social care heroes with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid is asked if home carers should get a pay rise:

Carer Carol Thompson, who earns £8.91 an hour supporting three adults with learning difficulties, said it is about time we were recognised”.

“We so desperately want the pay we deserve. But we are undervalued, unrecognised and underpaid.”

She added: “Staff are thinking you might as well be working in a supermarket – you get paid more, with far fewer responsibilities.”

In recent months carers such as Carol have also lost valuable pay for ‘sleep in shifts’ which no longer have to be paid at the National Minimum Wage after a Supreme Court ruling.

For Carol it means she has lost around £30 per sleep-in shift, which involves her spending the night at client’s homes.

The majority of home care is commissioned by local authorities, but their spending power has been slashed in recent years due to cuts from central government.

Care providers, who bid for care contracts from councils, say they do not receive enough cash to pass a real living wage onto their employees.

The director of care provider Be Caring explained to ITV News how the system works and why many providers "physically cannot pay carers a living wage”.

Home carer Carol earns just £8.91 an hour caring for adults with learning difficulties. Credit: Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror

“If somebody needs 20 hours of care a week, then we will get an hourly rate for that 20 hours of care a week,” Laura Mwamba said.

"From that we have to pay the carers their hourly rate of pay and cover all the overheads and business costs, back office support functions, people in the back office who support carers on the front line.

"There's the IT, the office costs, CQC registration. There are things we have to pay for as a business.”

She added: "In the simplest terms, the income, the hourly rate that we get paid does not cover the cost, so we cannot, we just physically cannot pay carers a living wage, and we can’t pay them from the time they’re out to the time they finish.

“We need better funding coming into the system so that we can pay people properly."

The UK Homecare Association (UKHCA) says the amount passed on to care providers is rarely enough to allow them to pass on a real living wage.

This is backed up by analysis by TBIJ, which found that the vast majority (94%) of English councils were not paying a high enough average hourly rate to fund a real living wage.

Colin Angel, policy director at the UKHCA told the Bureau: “Councils’ claims to reward the workforce with the real living wage without offering fees or terms to match are empty promises and pointless publicity stunts.”

He argued that more funding was needed from Westminster and that councils should be consulting more closely with care providers.

Care provider boss Laura Mwamba explains the problems in the system:

Justina - a carer who works for a care provider commissioned by Cumbria Council, which has pledged to pay the Real Living Wage of £9.50 - earns just £9.20 an hour for visiting elderly people and those with mental health problems every day.

She was recently injured at work, but her job says no sick pay guarantees, meaning she was forced to continue working.

“I was only thinking about the money I would lose,” she says.

“You know, I wouldn't care if I was crippled for the rest of my life if there is money coming in.” 

A spokesperson from Cumbria council said: “We will continue to encourage providers to pay the real living wage where they do not already, but we have no legal powers to make them do so.”

Most councils which have signed up to Unison’s charter gave a similar response.

Some said they could not force providers to pay a certain amount, while one council conceded that ads had gone out with the wrong pay level.

The pay rates were changed following enquiries.

The Care Workers’ Charity, which provides hardship grants to carers, says it gave out £2.2 million in grants last year, an increase of 1,150% on the previous year.

Among the problems facing the care industry is a very high turnover rate for new employees, with up to 75% of home carers in some areas leaving their roles within a year of starting, and up to one in three jobs is vacant.

Care recipients suffer as a result, because they’re made to rely on an ever-changing rota of carers for what is often very intimate care.

John (not his real name) has noticed the impact on the quality of care his mother receives for multiple sclerosis (MS), schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

“There’s always a different carer or there are shortages,” he said, “there’s a Deliveroo-style system of carers who are shipped to our house."

“They’re on minimal wages, they work ridiculous hours for the pay they have – and they’re not given the time to do a good job.”