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The care worker philanthropists who each give us £100,000

Brendan Martin, 9 November 2012

If a full-time social care worker was paid the living wage over a lifetime she would be more than £100,000 better off than if she received the national minimum wage (NMW), at today’s rates.

The living wage was raised to £7.45 outside London, and £8.55 in the capital, this Living Wage Week, which Labour leader Ed Miliband and Unison leader Dave Prentis kicked off by declaring that no worker should have to manage on less.

It says a lot about where we are that the Labour Party is considered radical for insisting every worker should be paid enough for the basics of everyday life, even if it has no plans to make the living wage compulsory.

Yet if the proposal is taken as seriously as it should be the implications for policy are indeed radical, and nothing reveals that more clearly than considering what it would mean for Britain’s 1.5 million social care workers.

Bear in mind that, according to government-commissioned research by Kings College last year, at least 150,000 care workers don’t even get the NMW, which is currently £6.19 for over-21s, £4.98 for 18-20-year-olds, and £3.68 for under-18s.

Let’s say the present government did something as surprising as actually enforcing the NMW. The gap between what a care worker outside London earned and what the living wage would give her would then be £1.36 per hour, or £2.46 in London.

That would mean that a social care worker doing a 35 hour week outside the capital would earn £47.60 a week less than she would on the living wage. If we assume she works 48 weeks of the year, this would mean she is down £2,285 over 12 months.

What would that mean over a working life of 45 years (yet another conservative assumption, given that the state pension age for a person entering the labour force today is 68)? It would mean a loss of more than £100,000 over her working life.

Andrew Dilnot’s Commission on the Funding of Care and Support last year recommended that no individual should have to pay more than £35,000 from their own resources over their lifetime before the state started paying for their care.

Yet a care worker would contribute three times that amount to the care of others -- on top of the taxes they pay like the rest of us -- just by receiving the NMW rather than the meagre living wage, even on the basis of our conservative assumptions.

Given that Dilnot’s numbers were based on actual current costs, and that the government is refusing to close even that funding gap, it is clear that the implications of paying the living wage would indeed have radical effects.

So the question is: will a Labour government put our money where its mouth is, and if so, how are we going to transform the political discourse about collective security and individual responsibility to enable that to happen?

This cannot be a question only of increasing the tax take to close the gap, although obviously that is a big part of it, and will require a robust approach to how the burden is shared and to ending illegal tax evasion and unethical tax avoidance.

But that won’t be enough, financially or politically. We will also need tough choices about how public money is spent, and innovative approaches to improving service quality while containing costs in ways that are fair to workers and service users.

Ed Miliband and Dave Prentis are no fools. We should assume they mean what they say and know what it means. The transformative implications of this one modest proposal for  every other area of public policy are indeed radical.

 

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