Desperately seeking a real living wage for social care during covid


‘I feel like a Roman Gladiator going into the ring on a night shift. Everyone is clapping for you, but you’re pitting yourself against a deadly disease without the proper pay and protection.’ – Tabitha, Care worker

Tabitha’s words really struck a chord with me. During the peak of the pandemic in Spring, I joined thousands of people all around the UK every Thursday evening to clap the brave work of key workers on the frontline, such as carers, and healthcare staff in the NHS.

But clapping is not enough. Care workers, like Tabitha, risked their lives, and continue to do so, in order to care for our loved ones. Like many other care workers, Tabitha became ill with covid-19 and wasn’t able to work for a month, meaning she had to rely on food donations from friends and neighbours. Tabitha’s zero-hours contract and minimum wage job left her with no safety net.

The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the existing inequalities in our society and has already hit the lowest earners hardest. Social care workers, who have always played a vital role in the care of the most vulnerable members of our society, are rightly in the spotlight during this pandemic.

Yet, analysis by Skills for Care for the Living Wage Foundation shows that during 2019/20, nearly three-quarters (73%) of independent sector care workers in England were paid less than the real Living Wage.[i] They are among the 5.2 million workers in low paid, insecure jobs – 1.3 million of whom are key workers.[ii] Care workers earn an average of £8.50 per hour and 24 per cent are on zero-hours contracts.[iii]

A secure job, paid at the real Living Wage, would help so many care workers avoid the struggles that Tabitha and many of her colleagues face on a regular basis.

Eileen, a care worker at Seniors Helping Seniors, an accredited Living Wage employer and long-standing champion of the Living Wage in the care sector, told us the difference the Living Wage has made to her: “Caring is far too often seen as ‘something that anyone can do’, and therefore requires no particular skills or experience. It is therefore given little recognition, and low pay is the norm. Being paid the Living Wage shows that I, and the work that I do, are being valued by my employer, and am recognised and rewarded for my skills and experience.”

This week, during Living Wage Week, the Living Wage movement celebrates a pay rise for hundreds of thousands of workers, as the new real Living Wage rates of £10.85 / hour in London and £9.50 / hour in the rest of the UK have been announced.

The real Living Wage is based on the cost of living. It means we can all meet our everyday needs, from the weekly shop to an emergency trip to the dentist, or a new school uniform for your child.

Nearly 7,000 businesses in the UK choose to go beyond the government minimum and sign up to pay the real Living Wage. Despite it being a challenging time, over 800 organisations have accredited as a Living Wage employer since the start of the pandemic, including a number of social care providers and local authorities with a social care remit.

This demonstrates that despite economic uncertainty, organisations recognise the importance of putting their staff first.

As we move from a summer of economic reopening to a winter of further lockdowns, we are once again relying on the many key workers who keep our economy going, often putting their own health at risk in the process. It’s never been more crucial for the wages of care workers like Tabitha to reflect the cost of living, so that they and their families are able to keep their heads above water financially.

Find out more about the real Living Wage:



[iii] Skills for Care (2020), The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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