Careworker pay: the national living wage is not enough

This content relates to the following topics:

Question: What is the difference between a careworker and Santa Claus? Answer: Santa Claus gets Boxing Day off.

While you may not find this joke in your Christmas cracker, it does have the virtue of being true (assuming, of course, that you believe in Santa Claus). Social care is a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year activity that doesn’t stop for the inconvenience of seasonal holidays.

In return for this level of commitment, its workforce receives... well, not a lot. The latest data shows that in April 2020 the average careworker was paid just £8.50 an hour. It is no surprise that many people – including The King’s Fund – see better pay as one of the foundation stones of reforming the sector. The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, for example, recently argued for giving social care staff parity of pay with their colleagues in the NHS.

'The latest data shows that in April 2020 the average careworker was paid just £8.50 an hour'

There are many reasons for seeing reform of pay as essential. It is an important factor in the vacancy problems in social care. Last year, there were 112,000 vacancies at any one time, a slight fall from 2019 but the second year in a row the number has topped 100,000. It also plays a role, albeit not the biggest one, in the sector’s awful turnover rate, with 430,000 staff (30.4 per cent) leaving their jobs in any one year.

There is also the issue of social justice. How can it be fair that workers doing difficult, skilled work battled their way through Covid-19 on such low pay, especially when they had a much higher risk of dying than other occupations as a result?

The government has acknowledged pay as an issue. The care minister, Helen Whately, told the House of Commons in June that an ambition of reform was that ‘in the long term care workers get the rewards they deserve.’ Yet, even if it wanted to improve pay, it faces real practical difficulties. The great majority of care workers are employed not – as with the NHS – by the public sector but by private companies. The money flows – in crude terms – from national government to local governments (who commission services), then to providers and only then to care workers. As a result, a £1 increase in national funding does not necessarily lead to a £1 pay increase for care workers. Proposals for better care worker pay must therefore come hand in hand with ways of delivering it, such as a sector-specific minimum wage or practical ways of requiring better pay when commissioning services. We must also look at how to link training and qualifications to pay and create career pathways across health and care.

None of that is currently happening. The main tool for improving pay up to now has, in practice, been national living wage legislation. To some extent this has been successful, with care worker pay rising faster since the introduction of the national living wage in April 2015 than before it. Next April, the national living wage will rise by 2.2 per cent (and also be extended to some younger workers). This is not as much as had been mooted in consultation but is better than the pay freeze being experienced in much of the public sector.

'How can it be fair that workers doing difficult, skilled work battled their way through Covid-19 on such low pay, especially when they had a much higher risk of dying than other occupations as a result?'

Yet the national living wage has had several unintended and unwanted consequences for social care, in part because the sector has been starved of cash to fund it. First, while the living wage has raised the pay of the lowest paid care workers, that has been at the expense of other staff. Employers have kept down overall pay rates by giving much smaller increases to other staff and a senior care worker is now paid just 12p more per hour than a new starter. Hardly an incentive to career progression. Second, while pay has increased for care workers as a result of the national living wage it has not increased as quickly as in other sectors like retail. Here, the major supermarkets were already paying more than £8.50 an hour earlier this year and also typically offered bonuses for staff during the Covid period (in fairness, so have some social care providers). So social care has become less competitive for its workforce. This may not matter quite so much with high levels of Covid-related unemployment, but it will come back to haunt the sector when unemployment falls. And third, there is some evidence that increasing pay through the minimum wage may have lowered social care quality in some circumstances.

This latter point is important because it reminds us that, without an effective workforce strategy, paying staff more may not in itself necessarily guarantee an improvement in quality of care. Nor does it make any difference whatsoever to the number of people who receive publicly funded care, integrate it better with the NHS or prevent the postcode lottery of who gets it. All of these – along with improved funding – are key areas for reform as well and reinforce the need to see pay as one factor in a wider, long-term and properly funded reform of social care rather than a one-off fix in its own right.



Care Assistant,
Comment date
08 January 2023

We give care for elderly bathing feeding give out medicines and so much more and all for £9,50 an hour ridiculous about time government realise they have to sort out social care as well as NHS

Jill crampton

Ex care assistant,
Comment date
14 June 2022

I don't know where you got your wage scales from 25000 a year certainly not from most care homes mo where near. I could get nearly tbe same from cleaning toilets with out being attacked.

Gary Lockwood

Supported living manager,
Taylor’s of Grampound
Comment date
12 December 2021

On the 23rd October my firms support workers had a raise £10.50 an hour weekdays and £11 per hour weekends . It meant they were getting paid more than me . I challenged this my contract has a salaried worker is nw £22880 if I do a 40 hour week , £11 an hour . My contract says I could do up to 48 hours without getting extra this resulting in my hourly rate decreasing. Why should I stay in social care looking after people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, drug and alcohol addiction for this money. Feel like it could be 16 years down the drain. Good job for social care at the moment I have a conscience.

Kelly mold

Care assistant,
Comment date
13 September 2021

I've been working in care homes for 15 years I've got my Nvq 2.3and 4 and I'm still on 8.91 a hour we all should be paid more money for the hours we work and it's hard work


Support worker,
United response
Comment date
03 September 2021

It’s an utter mess !!
I’m currently on £8.91 an hour, I’ve worked here for over 10 years. A student started at my workplace last week , she’s on the same pay. It’s all so disheartening …WE DESERVE MORE !!
Why can I stack shelves for £10 per hour ?? Shameful..
Love my job ,but the reality is money talks

Heather Chenoweth

Support worker,
Options kernow
Comment date
29 July 2021

We sh be paid accordingly!! With regards to our role. Would you do personal care for £9.50 an hour?

Kerry nicholas

Senior care assistant,
Sanctuary care
Comment date
22 July 2021

The pay rise is pathetic with what we have to face on a daily basis is pathetic we have sat with people who are dying of covid as family are not allowed in we suffer much prejudice like oh wipe peoples bottoms its a hell of alot more than that we are mom dad daughter son. We have cried with them we have been there when they are sick the public or government have no idea what we do we sacrifice our family to care of someones elses family and all we get is your not skilled. Bloody hell i do more training than any other job its ongoing traini g due to red tape. Ive seen famy just dump their parent in a care home amd walk away as if it is not their problem anymore and all we get is nothing from the government

Add your comment