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The Real Living Wage is the minimum we owe to essential workers in social care

November 9th 2020

Huw Anslow argues that our social care workers deserve the Real Living Wage

The pandemic has underlined many features in our economy that cause inequality. One of the most shocking examples is the low pay that our social care workers receive. This is despite their roles being defined as essential to ensure the care of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, during the greatest public health crisis since the Spanish Flu outbreak. This Living Wage Week, we must recognise the crucial role being played by our essential social care workers – and ensure that at the very least, they receive the Real Living Wage.

Social Care

Low pay in the social care sector has been a long-term problem. The pandemic has made it impossible to deny the damage this is causing to the sustainability of both the workforce, and of service delivery itself. The Welsh Government accepted the need to recognise the role played by social care workers during the initial lockdown period, announcing a one-off bonus payment of £500. But this is not enough to address the long-standing problem of low pay. Any financial benefits it brings are fleeting and will not improve conditions for the low paid. It could even amount to as little as £125 after tax and National Insurance deductions.

A number of developments have added to the growing momentum for workers to be fairly rewarded. HEIW and Social Care Wales published their joint workforce strategy for health and social care. This outlined ambitious plans to develop a sustainable and healthy workforce, attracting people with the right values and skills. Last month, the Welsh Government published its strategy for post-pandemic recovery outlining eight priorities, including more opportunities for “decent work” with long-term prospects. And a Wales Governance Centre report published over the summer identified key issues in the sector as including low pay and high staff turnover, highlighting that workers have faced a decade of no relative improvement in wages.

There is a solution that would help meet these ambitions and address long-standing problems. We can ensure that the social care sector can provide jobs that reflect the cost of living and the value of the services they are providing, while also helping to meet the growing demand for workers here. It is hard to see how we can increase “decent work” in Wales and attract people with the right skills into a sector which fails to value the ‘essential’ services provided by its workers.

Real Living Wage – the minimum standard

The Real Living Wage does not fully address all the issues faced by social care workers. This year has shown us that action is needed in areas such as access to PPE and improving sick pay. But improving wages is an important step towards the wider goal of fair work. At a minimum, these essential workers should receive fair reward for the services they are providing, especially when that involves caring for some of our most vulnerable.


Huw Anslow is Fair Work Project Officer at the Bevan Foundation.

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