The cost of living crisis and the care workforce

June 10, 2022

The cost of living crisis continues to hit the headlines this week and care workers across the UK are struggling to cope with the rising costs.

Homecare workers are leaving the sector for better-paid jobs with a more secure income and the Care Workers Charity reported today that it has seen an increase in crisis grant applications from care workers in relation to the cost of living crisis.

Karolina Gerlich, CEO, The Care Workers' Charity told CMM, ‘The current cost of living crisis is hitting our social care sector hard. Without funding increases to match the increased cost of groceries, fuel and energy bills our care workers often live hand to mouth and must seek support from organisations and charities such as ours to survive. With an already heavily strained workforce living with a still very real covid-19 pandemic after two years of struggle this is another blow to the industry.

'Our crisis grants scheme supported 87 care workers totalling £44,555.00 in May with the cost of living including fuel to allow carers to travel to work, groceries to feed their families and bill payments to keep their homes warm and powered. It is a terrifying time for the sector with no real solution in sight.'

Figures from the data firm Experian Catalist show the average price of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts reached a record 182.3p on Wednesday 9th June. That was an increase of 1.6p compared with Tuesday, taking the average cost of filling a 55-litre family car to £100.27.

The Chancellor set out a package of support last month to help with the cost of living. This includes several measures including £400 for all households, a boost of £650 for people in receipt of means-tested benefits, extra support for pensioners, and an extra £150 for people in receipt of disability benefits.

Access Social Care, the organisation that offers free legal advice and support to people who access care, said the Chancellor’s failure to address the pressures on social care will lead to millions of older and disabled people going without the social care they need and have a right to.

Unpaid carers

This week marked carers week and Carers UK and others have been drawing the Government’s attention to the extreme challenges that carers are facing with their finances and the charity says people in receipt of Carer’s Allowance have been overlooked for the £20 a week additional payment that Universal Credit recipients received from March 2020 until last Autumn, meaning carers lost out on over £1000 a year for two years in a row.

Homecare

The vacancy rate in homecare is now 13.5%, which is the highest ever recorded (recorded on 1st June).

Research from the Homecare Association also indicates that an estimated 96% of homecare workers are receiving no pay or low pay whilst isolating after a positive COVID-19 test, following the removal of the Infection Control and Testing Fund (ICTF) at the end of March 2022. In line with Government guidance, careworkers are expected to isolate if they test positive or develop symptoms.

At least 70% of homecare hours are state-funded. Years of under-investment by central government, poor practices in commissioning and purchasing of homecare and removal of emergency funding to meet COVID-19 guidelines, have left many employers operating on wafer-thin margins. This means that many cannot afford to pay higher wages, full sick pay or adequate mileage rates.

Survey responses from 292 homecare providers across the UK during April 2022, representing just over 31,350 careworkers supporting nearly 46,200 older and disabled people, showed that when the ICTF was available, 85% of providers either paid full wages to staff who were self-isolating due to COVID-19 throughout the six months or did so until there was no more grant money available. Now, only 6% say they can do so. As a result, homecare workers are leaving for jobs where isolation is not required or full sick pay is available.

Close to half (48%) of providers responding to the survey asserted that careworkers were seeking alternative employment due to issues regarding loss of pay while isolating. Almost a fifth (18%) stated that careworkers had indeed resigned for this reason. Meanwhile, 59% expressed anxiety that staff will come to work after testing positive for COVID-19.

This comes on top of a wave of resignations due to cost-of-living increases, with fuel prices being the most significant. As reported in a previous survey, escalating petrol and diesel costs are hitting homecare workers hard as, collectively, they drive over 4 million miles per day for work. Half of respondents asserted that careworkers had requested an increase in the mileage rate, while more than a fifth (21%) added that careworkers had either given notice, intended to look for work elsewhere or had already done so because they cannot afford to put fuel in their cars.

In the current survey, more than three-fifths (61%) of the sample stated that, as a result of staff sickness or isolation, existing clients were still being supported, but new referrals were being declined. Moreover, 11% claimed that they were also handing work back and ending support for some existing clients.

Calls to Government

The Homecare Association continues to urge the Government to:

  • Pay for a temporary fuel allowance to cover the increased costs of fuel for vehicles needed to deliver homecare.
  • Reinstate emergency COVID-19 funding for social care to enable careworkers to receive full sick pay whilst isolating.
  • Invest properly in homecare so we can build capacity and reduce unmet need, recognising that NHS hospitals will never succeed in reducing their waiting lists if they cannot free up beds by discharging people back home.

Commenting on the findings, Homecare Association’s CEO Dr Jane Townson said, ‘Many people are suffering, directly and indirectly, as there are not enough homecare workers to meet need. Older and disabled people in the community, and their informal carers, are experiencing deteriorating health as they are going without support. Furthermore, many ambulance trusts and hospitals blame lack of availability of homecare for inability to discharge and admit new patients swiftly, which has a knock-on effect on ambulance response times. NHS leaders say that patients are dying every day from avoidable causes due to ambulance delays.

Adding, ‘Right at this time of heightened demand for homecare, the Government chose to allocate most available funding to the NHS, remove vital grant funding to help meet COVID-19 guidelines, and avoid recognising the impact of escalating fuel costs on homecare delivery. Why is anyone surprised that homecare workers are resigning en masse when their income is insecure and inadequate, they don’t receive full sick pay and cannot afford to put fuel in their cars?

‘Endless meetings at NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care about workforce capacity won’t help. Adequate and sustained investment in homecare will.’

Visit the Homecare Association website to view the fuel costs and homecare survey results.

In other news, The Centre for Ageing Better has launched its new strategy today, which includes a bold new public campaign to tackle ageism.


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