Calls for council-contracted carers in Suffolk to be paid real living wage rejected
Calls for all council-contracted carers in Suffolk to be paid the real living wage have been rejected over concerns it would not be affordable or viable within current budgets.
A motion put forward by the Labour group to Suffolk County Council’s full council meeting last night called for all care workers in services the authority delivers or commissions to be paid £9.90 per hour – the real living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.
Currently, the national living wage figure as of April 2022 stands at £9.50, while the national minimum wage for those aged 21 upwards is £9.18 per hour.
Demonstrators from UNISON, which has been running the campaign, gathered outside Endeavour House ahead of yesterday’s meeting to call for action.
However, while all parties agreed that carers did fantastic work – particularly during the struggles of the last two years of Covid-19 – and deserved good pay for their jobs, the motion was voted down by 36 votes to 11.
Cllr Sandy Martin who put forward the motion, said: “I think it is wrong people should be paid less to do the job than they need to live on, and that is the basis of this campaign.
"Unison have been running this campaign specifically for care workers, because care workers are some of the people who are paid less than the real living wage.
“When people went out and clapped for care workers and health workers, they were not clapping on the understanding people could live on those claps, they knew that those people also needed to get a decent wage.
“The people who are working in care are dedicated people, but if they aren’t earning enough money to pay their rent, and their fuel bills, and buy food, they are going to have to leave and get another job elsewhere if they can.
"Or if they can’t they will just leave, because if you don’t pay somebody enough to live on they won’t carry on working.
“We are already seeing that in Suffolk, we are already seeing a drop-off in the number of people working in social care simply because they are not being properly paid.”
Cllr Martin said some care providers were already turning down council contracts because they did not have enough staff to fulfil them.
Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Conservative cabinet member for adult social care, said the council was carrying out an exercise to understand the cost of care, which includes an examination of carers’ pay, due to be published in the autumn.
That is set to help inform the budget process in February next year for adult social care provision.
She said that while minimum pay requirements could be incorporated into contracts, that would not be possible until they were due for renewal with many running for more than a decade to ensure a seamless service.
“We believe care staff impacted by national living wage increases accounts for 65 per cent of providers costs,” Cllr Hopfensperger said.
“If we assume care staff are currently paid £9.50 and we would move to the £9.90 pay, that equates to approximately £8million extra funding needed. This is clearly not affordable within the council’s budget.
“I want to see carers paid more, I want them to receive better benefits and better recognition for the incredible work they do.
"But does this motion really achieve that? Is effectively taking control of a provider payroll the best way of achieving sustainable wages?”
Cllr Caroline Page, spokesperson for adult social care with the opposition Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “We don’t have enough carers in Suffolk and if our county delegates our responsibilities to contractors who don’t pay enough we are failing in our responsibilities.
“It’s both exploitative and a route to even fewer carers, and this impacts on those who remain – professional carers working so hard they spend every day off asleep, and paid so little that surely they will soon realise that they could earn equal pay in other less stressful jobs.”