A Merseyside council’s plan to increase pay for care workers has been dismissed as “a PR exercise” by some providers.
Knowsley Council announced this week that it was increasing payments to domiciliary care providers by 7% and expecting the money to be reflected in care workers’ pay packets.
Announcing the increase, cabinet member Cllr Sean Donnelly described care workers as “unsung heroes” and said the council wanted “all workers within this sector know just how much their contribution is valued”.
But the UK Homecare Association (UKHCA), which represents more than 2,000 domiciliary care providers across the country, said the rise would barely cover the cost of paying care workers the minimum wage.
Dr Jane Townson, UKHCA chief executive, said: “Even without a pandemic, what they are offering would be impossible to deliver and be sustainable.”
The increase proposed by Knowsley Council would see hourly payments to care providers rise from £14.50 to £15.51.
But the UKHCA estimates that the cost of paying staff the new minimum wage, which increased 6.2% this month, comes to £14.89 per hour once you include national insurance, pension contributions and other statutory costs.
On top of this, care providers must pay their business costs, including the costs of complying with regulations, training staff and renting offices.
In total, the UKHCA estimates that care providers need an hourly rate of £20.69 to pay staff the minimum wage, meet their business expenses and make a 3% profit.
Knowsley’s new rate is more than £5 below this level, while its old rate would not even cover the cost of employing a carer at the new minimum wage, according to the UKHCA’s estimates.
Dr Townson said: “Low payment rates create a high risk of providers not paying the care workers enough, or by call clipping, risking the quality of service to people who need care.”
“Call clipping” involves carers spending less time with each person who needs care, so they can fit more people in.
Dr Townson added: “Providers often get blamed for this, but it’s the way councils pay for care.
“And then to go to the press trying to make out they’re these heroes – all they’re going to do is force the entire homecare sector up there out of business.”
But Cllr Donnelly, Knowsley’s cabinet member for health and social care, said: “Of course, care providers could always do with more funding, as could everyone else including the council.
“We expect that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic will cost us in the region of £20m. Central government has so far given us £6.7m.
“At a time when the council has massive pressure on its finances, we have still prioritised £2.4m of investment in the private care sector.”
'They don't engage', say providers
Paul Growney, chief executive of care provider Caring Connections, said Knowsley’s rates were some of the lowest in the country.
He said: “It’s just a PR exercise, because they’re already paying a lot less than others.”
Mr Growney also expressed frustration at the way the rise had been communicated, saying the council had not consulted providers on the proposal and had informed them of the rise at the same time as announcing it to the public.
Dr Townson echoed Mr Growney’s concerns.
She said: “Knowsley don’t reply, they don’t engage.
“They’re not even bothering to talk to providers to find out how much it costs to provide homecare. It’s just rude.”
She also said she was concerned that the increase in payments did not account for the higher costs faced by domiciliary care providers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including the need to pay for personal protective equipment.
She said: “Very little of the government’s money has made its way to support the homecare sector.
“We’re projecting in two or three months there could be mass insolvencies.”
But Cllr Donnelly said the reaction from most care providers had been positive and the council was in regular contact with them.
He said: “Whilst one provider has challenged this investment, this is not reflective of the sector and the feedback we have had from other providers has been extremely positive – they have welcomed this significant investment and support from the council.
“The stability of our care provision has been a key priority for us. As well as the financial support announced earlier this week, we have also been funding and delivering emergency personal protective equipment 7 days a week to all of our care providers, ensuring they have what they need to ensure their staff and residents are protected.
“In addition, we are also funding commissioned hours for cancelled packages of care, prioritising the funding to support staff pay.
“We are in regular contact with our providers to provide much-needed support to them at this very challenging time. The action we have taken demonstrates that we are listening and responding to the issues they have raised.”