Every one of the UK’s million-plus care workers should be paid at least the real living wage, Angela Rayner has demanded, as care homes brace for a feared resurgence of Covid-19.
Labour’s deputy leader said the government must tackle low pay in the industry as she challenged Boris Johnson to follow lockdown “warm words” with meaningful change for the sector.
Almost 18,000 residents died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in UK care facilities during the first wave of the virus, prompting calls for fair pay for care workers battling to help the vulnerable.
The average care wage is £8.10, a figure Johnson could not supply when Rayner asked him at prime minister’s questions. Half of the UK’s care staff earn below the real living wage, seen as the minimum sum needed for people to live.
Set by the Living Wage Foundation, this is currently £9.30 an hour across the UK, and £10.75 in London, higher than the government-mandated living wage for workers aged 25 and over, which is £8.72 an hour.
Following her questions about care during her debut at PMQs, Rayner – a former care home worker and union organiser for care staff – said Johnson had to act on his promise to introduce a long-term plan for the sector, made in his first speech at No 10.
Rayner used an article in the Guardian to say that despite the hard work and sacrifice of care staff during the first period of coronavirus, Johnson had thus far only offered lip service.
Writing before Labour’s online-only annual conference this weekend, she said: “Prime minister, I’m afraid that applause, empty gestures and pats on the back don’t pay the rent, keep the lights on or put food on the table.
“Tory ministers have fallen over themselves to clap for our carers and salute their sacrifices but their understanding is skin deep at best, as their immigration bill dismissing care workers as ‘low-skilled’ and unwelcome just went to show.”
Rayner is to open the Labour virtual conference, rebranded as Labour Connected, on Saturday by paying tribute to key workers and accusing Johnson of wrongly trying to blame care staff for failings amid Covid.
In a statement released on Friday, Rayner called for concerted action over care: “On his first day in office the prime minister promised to fix the crisis in social care with a plan he said he had already prepared. Now it turns out that it won’t be published until next year.
“He must publish his plan to fix the crisis in social care without any more delays, and that plan must guarantee all care workers are paid at least the real living wage.”
On the current wages situation, Rayner said that if this was wrong before the coronavirus pandemic, “now it is unconscionable”.
She said: “We can’t clap our key workers and then abandon them. We can’t go back to business as usual, where the very same people who have helped to get our country through this crisis are still underpaid and undervalued.”
Labour is also demanding that all care staff get the right to statutory sick pay. In her Guardian article, Rayner said those without sick pay could be “left in an appalling position, forced to choose between going to work and putting vulnerable people at risk, or doing the right thing, isolating at home and not being able to pay the bills”.
She wrote: “Nobody should be put in that position, least of all social care staff who have sacrificed so much throughout this pandemic. When I listen to care workers telling me they are working themselves into the ground for a wage that they can barely survive on, I know how it feels because I have walked in their shoes.
“I am proud that before I became a member of parliament I was a home care worker, working back-breaking shifts on poverty pay and a zero-hours contact. But I’m proud of the work that I did caring for those who needed it. It made me who I am today and it means that when I stand up in parliament I know who I’m standing up for. I know whose side I’m on.”