The unprecedented scale of underpayment in social care work

New research suggests that 160,000 care workers are being paid below the minmum wage


Today research carried out by The Resolution Foundation reveals the full scale of underpayment in the social care sector. It finds that, out of 1.4 million care workers in the UK, 160,000 are being paid less than the minimum wage, losing out on an average of £815 per year.

Social care has repeatedly been flagged as an area of concern in terms of minimum wage compliance; an ageing population and funding cuts have been partially to blame for this.

The Resolution Foundation highlight that the sector also has other risk factors for breaches in payment rights – its workers comprise a disproportionately high number of women (83 per cent) and part time staff (38 per cent), as well as a growing number of migrant workers.

The underpayment can also be attributed to the fact that in many cases care workers are being paid only for ‘contact’ time with their clients. This means that time spent travelling between clients’ homes is unpaid, even when workers may make several journeys between clients every day. Unpaid training time and ‘on call’ time have also been raised as factors.

The Resolution Foundation, a think tank which focuses on improving living standards for low to middle income families, says that legally there is no ambiguity regarding these breaches of NMW:

“While calculating total working time can be complex, the law is clear that these activities are in scope for the purposes of the NMW, and that if pay is based on a subset of this time, for example ‘contact’ hours, then it must adequately reward the total at or above NMW rates.”

It calls for coordinated action by government, local authorities and social care providers to end this epidemic of illegal pay, which it says is likely to get worse. It says that the government must ‘recognise the impact of reduced social care budgets’ on the treatment of care workers, estimating that if properly paid, these workers would have contributed £9 million of employer National Insurance in 2013-14.

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