The majority of people think care workers should be paid the same as pharmacy assistants and some other NHS workers, according to research by an organisation working to support people with learning disabilities and autism.
Survey results for Dimensions suggest that 80% of people think social care is as important or deserves the same respect as the NHS, while two-thirds (66%) said care workers should get the same pay as NHS Band 3 staff.
Band 3 roles include emergency care assistants, occupational therapy support workers and pharmacy assistants, and salaries range from £21,000 to £23,000 depending on experience.
Dimensions has launched a petition calling for minimum care worker pay to be aligned with NHS Band 3, saying it is a plea backed by the public based on its April survey of 2001 adults across the UK. The petition states that in recent years sales assistants have been better paid than social care workers, and the organisation said many skilled care and support workers are moving to better paid roles in other jobs amid the rising cost of living.
Most social care staff are employed by private sector providers who are responsible for setting their pay and conditions. But in a report last year, the Health and Social Care Committee suggested that "increases in pay and improvements in terms and conditions will not be possible without an increase in social care funding" from the Government.
MPs on the committee said they had heard evidence from the Local Government Association that local authorities will not be able to pay providers the rates needed to retain staff "unless funding is sorted out".
Shortfall in Social Care Funding
Despite a previous pledge to invest at least £500 million to support the social care workforce, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed last month that this figure will now be £250 million, although it insisted no funding for the adult social care sector has been removed or reallocated to the NHS.
Dimensions chief executive Rachael Dodgson described the shortfall in funding as "a betrayal of the hard-working, skilled individuals who were on the front line of the pandemic and continue to provide essential care and support for older and disabled people who draw on social care support".
She said that, while increasing support worker pay is not a "silver bullet", it is a "critical first step and will make a measurable difference" to current workforce challenges.
She added: "We've implemented three pay rises for our support workers in the last year, but we're restricted in going further by tough limits on local authority budgets.
"Yes, a larger, better-paid social care workforce comes with costs, but it's an investment in people – both in rewarding and retaining a dedicated workforce and in providing people with the support they require to live happy and healthy lives."
She added: "We’re asking the Government to mandate that minimum care worker pay is aligned with NHS Band 3 and to provide the funding for local authorities and social care providers to meet this. Connecting social care workforce pay scales to NHS scales will allow us to build and sustain a national social care workforce to be proud of."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We've previously announced up to £7.5 billion of additional funding for adult social care, and in the Next Steps To Put People At The Heart Of Care plan we set out how we are spending £700 million on reform over the next 2 years – including £250 million for the workforce."
Social care minister Helen Whately told the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday that, while the national living wage has risen by almost 10% to £10.42 an hour, she does not "want people always to think of social care as being sort of a national living wage job" and said social care workers "should be rewarded for what they do".
She said that fundamentally, pay for social care workers is determined by their employers but added that the Government has delivered the biggest funding increase in history for adult social care in England, with up to £7.5 billion over 2 years which is intended to enable local authorities to invest in social care.