Scotland’s care system is ‘on its knees’ with workers struggling with low pay and facing long hours and poor conditions, industry leaders say.
New Health Foundation figures show one in five UK residential care workers were living in poverty even before the cost of living crisis set in, with the GMB union calling for higher wages at £15 an hour.
Lynn Black, CEO of the Love Group – a provider of residential and home care services across Scotland – said some staff were working 80 hour weeks ‘just to survive’, adding that a record number of people leave the sector for better paid jobs elsewhere.
She said many resort to payday loans to make ends meet and time spent commuting between jobs translates to an average income of £4-6 an hour.
She told STV News: ‘There are very few job benefits and the industry is in complete crisis. He stops.
“Our workers are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to wages. No one wants to get into the care business when supermarkets can give you more money and benefits.
Lynn explains that care businesses like Love Group are under contract with the local council, which dictates how much they can pay their staff.
She said benefits are usually allocated to adult care workers who are the lowest paid, but “there is not much you can do” without government help.
“The workers who stay here are here because they care,” she said. “These are the unsung heroes who risked their lives during Covid. They are the backbone of society.
“The impact of the cost of living crisis will be felt across the sector and will impact services.
“We don’t value them enough. One day I will need care, you will need care. Everyone in the company will be affected at some point in the future.
Care worker Fiona Leach said some of her colleagues are using food banks and going without food as household costs soar.
She said filling up her car costs around £100 more a month now and she also has to deal with rising energy bills. Carers can claim 45 pence per mile for journeys to and from work, but not for their daily commute.
“Before, I could refuel three or four times, but it’s much more expensive.
“Some staff members are starving themselves. Managers will talk to them and provide them with food or take them to a store. We shouldn’t do that nowadays.
“I cut and buy less and cook in bulk, which I can afford.”
Ms Leach explained that workers are not paid when their regular clients are hospitalized, which can result in the loss of two or three hours of wages per day.
“It’s a huge part of our salaries. It’s not fair to the staff.
“I do this for the customers. They make me smile, sometimes you’re the only person they see everyday. But it’s my job and our services are in so much demand.
One of his clients is Janet Murdoch, who received a care kit after suffering several falls.
She said social workers deserved much better pay and conditions because they were under ‘terrible’ pressure amid growing demand – some working from 7am to 10pm.
“I couldn’t have done without it. Getting out of bed was a nightmare,” she said. “It reassures my family.
“The girls work under terrible pressure. Moving between patients and trying to give them the allotted time is a lot of work.
“Covid has demolished the health service. I don’t know what the answer is, but we need a lot more staff.
Rachel Harrison, national leader of the GMB union, said: ‘Care workers are a hugely skilled and caring workforce who do incredible and difficult work.
“Instead of being properly rewarded, they are expected to survive a hair above minimum wage.
Essential care is provided by underpaid workers and mainly women.
“And without the dedication of our carers, the whole house of cards will crumble.
‘GMB is campaigning for care workers to be paid at least £15 an hour – it’s the least they deserve.’