Real living wage uplift for care workers “would cost £15m” says county council

Essex County Council has estimated introducing a real living wage policy for care workers in Essex could cost an extra £15m – as the it grapples with encouraging more to become care workers who can earn more “picking pears”.

Cabinet member for adult social care, Councillor John Spence, has started the process of beginning how Essex County Council might fund such a wage commitment which could be paid for in next year’s budget.

The council agreed with opposition members in a motion that commits to a Real Living Wage (currently £9.50 an hour) for both care workers and those working in the private sector commissioned by the council.

Cllr Spence said the council is “very firmly committed” to improving package of conditions for care workers who work both directly for the county council and through whom they are employed in the private sector.

But he added: “We have the responsibility to spend the money our residents give us and entrust to us.

“We have responsibility to ensure all the conflicting priorities before us are weighed up and decisions made in that overall context which is why we have the budget process.

“We have a responsibility to say that when we have major proposals – this would cost £15m – they are properly costed.”

Essex County Council’s adult social care department has made it clear reform is needed to attract more people into the sector.

Essex County Council’s executive director for adult social care, Nick Presmeg, called for a unified workforce strategy between local authorities and the NHS to steady an “unsustainable” market – in which care workers providing a vital service by caring for adults in their homes can earn more money “picking pears”.

Workers poor pay is believed to be contributing to a turnover rate that is around 33 per cent – more than double the national average.

Speaking in at the Essex Health and Wellbeing Board in September, he said: “The care market is very stressed and very stretched – you can earn more money picking pears than you can providing domiciliary care.

“If you work 40 hours a week you will earn £17,000 and you will have travel costs. That is not sustainable.”

Cllr Spence added at full council on Wednesday: “”We do want to see their pay increased.

“But the answer lies in the new health care bill and social care reforms.

“No one here is opposing the notion that we want to see this progressed.

“All the amendment seeks to do is take that forward in an orderly way.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter