Who cares?

The experience of social care workers, and the enforcement of employment rights in the sector

The social care sector, as well as playing a vital role for many people and for our society, is an important employer, with 1.7 million social care jobs across the UK in 2022. Jobs in social care have many positive aspects of working in the sector, including the ability to form deep personal connections with clients, job security, and greater levels of flexibility and autonomy than are possible in many low-paid jobs. But there are many challenges too. Pay is low – and likely unlawfully low for many workers in the domiciliary sector once their travel time is accounted for. This, along with funding constraints and the particular demands of the Covid period, have contributed to a staffing crisis which is having serious negative knock-on effects on workload and safety.

Many of the negative aspects of care work would be improved with better policy. To start with, there should be a sector minimum rate of pay £2 above the minimum wage. This would materially reduce the chance of minimum wage underpayment, and help resolve the current recruitment and retention problems. Domiciliary workers must also be paid for their travel time. And finally, greater effort should be made to improve the security of workers in the ‘personal assistant’ part of the workforce, where insecure and informal employment relationships are commonplace.

This report draws heavily on three focus groups with frontline care workers.