Scotland’s care system is “on its knees” with workers struggling on low pay and facing long hours and poor conditions, according to industry leaders.
New figures from the Health Foundation show one in five residential care workers in the UK were living in poverty even before the cost of living crisis took hold, with the trade union GMB calling for wages to be increased to £15 an hour.
Lynn Black, CEO of the Love Group – a provider of residential and home care services across Scotland – said some staff are toiling through 80 hours a week “just to survive”, adding that record numbers are leaving the sector for better paid jobs elsewhere.
She said many are resorting to payday loans in order to make ends meet.
Furthermore, soaring petrol prices mean it’s actually costing carers to go to work as most staff use their own cars to visit clients.
Staff receive an average earning of £4 to £6 an hour as they aren’t paid for time spent travelling between jobs.
She told STV News: “There are very few benefits to the job and the sector is in complete crisis. It’s grinding to a stop.
“Our workers are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to wages. No one wants to come into the care sector when supermarkets can give you more money and benefits.”
Lynn explains that care firms like Love Group are contracted by the local council, which dictates how much they can pay their staff.
She said profit is usually allocated to workers in adult care who are the lowest paid but “there’s only so much that can be done” without government help.
“The workers that remain here are here because they care,” she said. “They are the unsung heroes that 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’ll need care, you’ll need care. Everyone in society will be affected at some point in the future.”
Care worker Fiona Leach said some of her colleagues use food banks and go without eating as household costs soar.
She said filling her car is around £100 extra a month now and she also faces rising energy bills. Care staff can claim 45p per mile for journeys to and from jobs but not for their daily commute.
“I used to be able to fill my car three or four times but it’s a lot dearer.
“Some staff are going without food. Managers will speak to them and either supply them with some (food) or take them to a shop. We shouldn’t be doing this in this day and age.
“I’m cutting down and buying less and bulk cooking, which is what I can afford to do.”
Ms Leach explained that workers are not paid when their regular clients go into hospital, which could result in losing two or three hours’ pay a day.
“That’s a huge chunk of our wages. It’s not fair on staff.
“I do this for the clients. They make me smile, sometimes you’re the only person they see on a daily basis. But it’s my job and there is so much demand on our services.”
One of her clients is Janet Murdoch, who was given a care package after suffering a number of falls.
She said care workers deserve much better pay and conditions as they are under “terrible” pressure amid growing demand – with some on from 7am until 10pm at night.
“I couldn’t have done without them. Getting out of bed was a nightmare,” she said. “It gives my family peace of mind.
“The girls are working under terrible pressure. Travelling between patients and trying to give them the allotted time, it’s a big job.
“Covid has demolished the health service. I don’t know what the answer is but we need an awful lot more staff.”
Rachel Harrison, national officer at the trade union GMB, said: “Care workers are an immensely skilled, compassionate workforce who do an incredible, difficult job.
“Instead of being properly rewarded, they are expected to survive on a whisker above the minimum wage.
Essential care is delivered by underpaid and mostly women workers.
“And without the dedication of our care workers the whole house of cards will come tumbling down.
“GMB is campaigning for care workers to be paid no less than £15 an hour – it’s the least they deserve.”