Essex councillors must ensure care workers get a living wage

Care workers are calling on Essex councillors to guarantee a living wage and decent sick pay for the sector at tomorrow’s full council meeting.

Essex County Council will debate a Labour motion recognising care staff’s “fantastic work” during the pandemic but pointing out that most continue to earn less than a living wage.

Living Wage Foundation research last year showed that 71% of Essex care workers are paid less than £9.50 an hour, the minimum necessary to meet everyday needs.

The motion also calls on the council to ensure care workers receive Covid-related sick pay if they catch the virus or have to isolate and occupational sick pay, rather than the £96 guaranteed by law.

Care workers’ union UNISON warns that without higher pay the whole sector could collapse from lack of staff.

A National Care Forum survey last month found that three-quarters (74%) of providers had seen an increase in staff exits since April. Half of employers (50%) said staff left for an easier job, with nearly as many (44%) saying it was to find better pay elsewhere.

The union is urging councillors of all stripes to back the motion.

UNISON Eastern head of social care Caroline Hennessy said: “Care staff have made huge personal sacrifices to care for Essex’s most vulnerable residents over the last year and a half, but many of them can’t afford to make ends meet.

“This isn’t about party politics, it’s about valuing these skilled professionals. Staff are leaving in droves because they can find better-paid and less stressful jobs elsewhere. Already stretched services could be torn apart under the pressure.

“Councillors have a real chance not just to improve care workers’ lives, but the lives of those they’re looking after too. We urge them to take it.”

One support worker for people with learning disabilities in Essex describes having to go to work in ripped clothes because they cannot afford to buy replacements for those torn by service-users.

“We struggle to put food on the table. I often go without food all day so that my children can eat,” they said. “I owe my mum a lot of money now. I want to pay it back but I can’t. After paying our rent and bills there is no money left.”

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