03 May 2023
By Helen Broad, SCIE Policy and Public Affairs Officer
In recognition of Women’s Pay Day and in the wake of Women’s History month, I’d like to take stock of where we are in terms of gender equity in social care. It’s important to recognise the gender pay gap that still exists for women working in paid roles, whilst also acknowledging the burden that falls on women, who shoulder most unpaid home and caring responsibilities.
Through the lens of gender equity, we can better understand and tackle the social and economic challenges facing the care workforce.
23 April, 114 days into 2023, was the last Women’s Pay Day across sectors . Women’s Pay Day, or Equal Pay Day as it is also known, is the number of days the average woman works for free to equal the additional pay their male counterparts receive. This day changes based on profession and demographic. For the health and social care sector, “the gender pay gap is 14%, [and] the average woman works for free for 51 days until Monday 20 February 2023” .
Working in the social care sector, I’ve noticed we neglect to acknowledge that our workforce is composed of 82% women. Our overworked and underpaid care workforce affects more than one million women across the UK, and this workforce has been especially vulnerable to the cost-of-living crisis in the wider economy.
Throughout this particularly harsh winter, the British public experienced the heightened effects of the cost-of-living crisis . Gas and food prices have risen to unprecedented levels. Inflation continues to rise but salaries have not been able to keep up, especially in the health and care sectors.
The squeeze continues
One sector that is particularly hurting from the cost-of-living crisis is social care. The workforce is already in crisis due to staffing shortages, burnout rates, and lack of support for employees. Vacancy rates are up 52% in the past year in England . Also, the social care sector has failed to keep up with the rising wages of other sectors and continue to lose workers to higher paying jobs.
Beyond recruitment and retention issues, the cost-of-living crisis disproportionately affects the social care workforce because it is predominantly women working in the sector. The demographics are instructive. About half of the social care workforce is comprised of part-time or zero-contract hour employees. Part-time workers are more likely to live in poverty than full-time workers. Disabled people, which make up 24% of the social care workforce , are also overly burdened by the cost-of-living crisis.
Overall, much of the social care workforce is very near, at, or below the poverty line . Food insecurity for care workers and their families is a very real and current problem. The hardships faced by the workforce are only heightened by the cost-of-living crisis. We call on more robust data investigating the effects of the cost-of-living crisis on the social care workforce, particularly women carers, as we anticipate the repercussions, such as potentially lowering retention rates, to be significant.
It is important to consider the cost-of-living crisis that is disproportionately affecting the social care workforce as a matter of gender equity. With over one million women working in this sector, we should be capturing evidence about their experiences and how this affects their decisions to remain in, or leave, the workforce.
These are every day women and families who are doing the important jobs of caring for and supporting our loved ones and ourselves in times of need. We need to continue to fight to ensure they are well cared for, too.