Care home workers are more likely to live in poverty and deprivation than the average UK worker, according to a new report by the Health Foundation.
Even before the cost of living crisis hit, 1 in 5 residential care workers in the UK were living in poverty, compared to 1 in 8 of all workers. Many relied on state support to make up for low income from employment – 20% of the residential care workforce drew on universal credit and legacy benefits from 2017 to 2020, compared to 10% of all workers.
The cost of caring
The report, The cost of caring: poverty and deprivation among residential care workers in the UK, by the independent charity, also finds that around 1 in 10 residential care workers experienced food insecurity, living without reliable access to enough healthy food. 13% of residential care workers’ children lived in material deprivation, where families are unable to provide children with essentials like fresh fruit and vegetables or a warm winter coat. This compares to 5% of children in all working families.
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.’
Social care reform
The Health Foundation is calling for additional investment and reform for social care to address low pay and poor working conditions. The authors argue that little is being done to 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 for social care in England and that broader policy to tackle poverty is also vital – including on housing and social security.
The Health Foundation analysis uses national survey data from April 2017 to April 2020. Since then, a range of factors has impacted the social care system and its staff – from COVID-19 to the cost-of-living crisis. It believes without more support for poorer households and long-overdue action to improve jobs in care, life is set to get even harder for social care workers in the UK.