Care workers should be better paid and valued after Covid-19 – poll

Alexandra Topping
Photograph: Scott Wilson/PA

There has been a dramatic shift in the public’s perception of care workers as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with most people believing they should be better paid and better valued, according to a survey.

The poll, which was published on Tuesday by the gender equality campaigning charity the Fawcett Society, found 65% of respondents supported an increase in income tax to fund a pay rise for care workers, a figure that rose to 68% among Conservative voters polled.

Sam Smethers, the charity’s chief executive, said: “This crisis has revealed how much we rely on frontline workers, particularly low-paid care workers, yet how poorly they are treated. The truth is government did not prioritise the care sector at the start and the public are clear on that. This must change. As a minimum it is time to properly protect them, give them decent terms and conditions and start paying them a living wage.”

According to the Savanta ComRes poll, 48% of respondents did not think the government sufficiently prioritised care homes at the beginning of the pandemic, while 26% believed it did.

(February 25, 2020) 

Public Health England issues guidance stating that it was “very unlikely” care homes would become infected. The guidance was not withdrawn until 12 March.

(March 31, 2020) 

Despite a lack of official statistics about fatalities, care homes warn that they are at “breaking point” and MHA, the country’s biggest charitable provider, says it has suspected cases in more than half of its facilities.

(April 2, 2020) 

The Department of Health and Social are guidelines on discharging hospital patients into care homes states: “Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.”

(April 14, 2020) 

Chief medical adviser Chris Whitty says that more than one in ten care homes (13.5%) now has at least one case of Covid-19. Whitty says: “Care homes are one of the areas where there are large numbers of vulnerable people and that is an area of risk and therefore we would very much like to have much more extensive testing.”

(April 15, 2020) 

Testing is expanded into care homes but only for people with symptoms.

(April 21, 2020) 

Five of the largest care home providers say they have now recorded a total of at least 1,052 deaths

(April 28, 2020) 

Care home deaths are included alongside deaths in hospitals after a sharp rise of more than 4,300 deaths over a fortnight in England and Wales. Testing is extended to staff and residents without symptoms.

(May 3, 2020) 

Launch of a national delivery system for personal protective equipment to care homes is hit by a delay of up to three weeks

(May 13, 2020) 

Academics report that more than 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales may have died as a direct or indirect result of Covid-19 – more than double the number stated in official figures.

During the pandemic, care workers – some of whom have moved in with the elderly people they are looking after to prevent the transmission of the virus – have described their battles to get hold of personal protective equipment.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that social care workers in England and Wales have been twice as likely to die with coronavirus as the general working-age population.

In social care, one in four workers are on zero-hours contracts, and seven out 10 earn less than £10 an hour, according to TUC analysis. In March 2019 pay for direct care workers in the independent sector was £8.52 on average. On an annual basis, workers earned an average of £16,400.

“These are people doing some of the most valuable work in society for the least money, who are still, even today, wrapping themselves in bin bags because of a lack of PPE [personal protective equipment],” the TUC’s secretary general, Frances O’Grady, told the Guardian, adding: “What does that say about us?”

Related: Doctors, nurses, porters, volunteers: the UK health workers who have died from Covid-19

More than seven out 10 people (72%) said care workers were underpaid, and three-quarters thought they should get at least the living wage of £9.30 per hour (£10.75 in London). Eight out of 10 said workers should be entitled to decent terms and conditions, and seven out of 10 agreed that home workers should get paid for travel between their appointments.

The research comes ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act 1970 on Friday, which gave women the legal right to equal pay. Eight out of 10 care workers are women and the undervaluing of caring work is a fundamental cause of unequal pay, said Mary-Ann Stephenson, the director of the Women’s Budget Group.

“These figures show that there is strong public support for these vitally important jobs to be properly valued and properly paid,” she said. “The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the serious flaws in our system but it also shows that we can and must do things differently.”