Paying real living wage to carers in Suffolk 'not affordable'

UNISON demonstrators outside Endeavour House in Ipswich ahead of a debate on carer\'s pay at Suffolk County Council. 

UNISON demonstrators outside Endeavour House in Ipswich ahead of a debate on carer\'s pay at Suffolk County Council. - Credit: Unison Eastern

Calls for all council-contracted carers in Suffolk to be paid the real living wage have been rejected over concerns it would not be affordable or viable within current budgets.

A motion put forward by the Labour group to Suffolk County Council’s full council called for all care workers in services the authority delivers or commissions to be paid £9.90 per hour – the real living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.

Currently, the national living wage figure as of April 2022 stands at £9.50, while the national minimum wage for those aged 21 upwards is £9.18 per hour.

Demonstrators from UNISON, which has been running the campaign, gathered outside Endeavour House ahead of Thursday’s meeting to call for action.

However, while all parties agreed that carers did fantastic work – particularly during the struggles of the last two years of Covid-19 – and deserved good pay for their jobs, the motion was voted down by 36 votes to 11.

Cllr Sandy Martin who put forward the motion, said: “When people went out and clapped for care workers and health workers, they were not clapping on the understanding people could live on those claps, they knew that those people also needed to get a decent wage.

“We are already seeing that in Suffolk, we are already seeing a drop-off in the number of people working in social care simply because they are not being properly paid.”

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Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, Conservative cabinet member for adult social care, said the council was carrying out an exercise to understand the cost of care, which includes an examination of carers’ pay, due to be published in the autumn.

“We believe care staff impacted by national living wage increases accounts for 65% of providers costs,” Cllr Hopfensperger said.

“If we assume care staff are currently paid £9.50 and we would move to the £9.90 pay, that equates to approximately £8million extra funding needed. This is clearly not affordable within the council’s budget.

“I want to see carers paid more, I want them to receive better benefits and better recognition for the incredible work they do. But does this motion really achieve that? Is effectively taking control of a provider payroll the best way of achieving sustainable wages?”

Cllr Caroline Page, spokesperson for adult social care with the opposition Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “We don’t have enough carers in Suffolk and if our county delegates our responsibilities to contractors who don’t pay enough we are failing in our responsibilities."