One of the UK’s biggest care home groups plans to bring the national living wage increase in early and invest £17 million to boost carers’ salaries in a bid to combat recruitment and retention issues plaguing the sector.
HC-One has announced its biggest pay investment to date to recognise its carers’ skill and dedication and to reward the loyalty of more experienced colleagues.
From early 2022, all staff will be paid at least the new national living wage of £9.50 that the Government has said will take effect next April, and carers who stay at least six months will receive a pay increase.
Those who have been at the company for at least two years – around half of the care staff – will receive above the real living wage, which is set at £9.90.
The new rates, which are yet to be finalised and will include some regional variety, are expected to take effect early in the new year.
The care home chain, which employs around 21,000 members of staff, said it has seen vacancy rates triple since February, while turnover has risen to around 550 staff members a month in the last three months.
It also lost around 450 staff due to the mandatory vaccination requirement, which kicked in on November 11.
It is looking to recruit more workers to fill the growing demand for care, and meet the increased complexity of needs that residents are presenting with.
It is also hoped that the incentives will stop carers from leaving for jobs in sectors such as retail and hospitality, which the care regulator has identified as a recent trend as society opened up this year.
Chief executive James Tugendhat said the challenge of retaining staff where there are other job choices available is “really difficult” and that recruitment is “really, really tough out there”.
He told the PA news agency: “I think the biggest challenge, certainly for us at HC-One, is being able to grow our workforce and welcome colleagues in, in line with the needs of families as more people come back to care, and as the care demands get more complicated.
“So we are seeing ever more need for more complex dementia care, more frailty, and so it’s not just a question of having more people, it’s also having enough of the right skills and being able to train and develop colleagues.
“So keeping up with the demand is really difficult, and ensuring that the whole proposition that we give our colleagues is enough when there are some really high starting salaries and welcome bonuses in other sectors.”
He added that there is “no doubt” that it has been a really tough time for social care staff but that it has brought teams closer.
And he said he is aware, anecdotally, that some carers who have left for jobs in sectors such as retail have since returned because “those other jobs don’t always offer the chance to make the difference that you get to make day in day out in care”.
The GMB union, which is recognised by HC-One, will consult on the proposed changes with members.
Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “Any investment in the social care workforce, which has been undervalued and underpaid for so long, is a welcome step in the right direction.
“Professionalising the care service is long overdue, offering care workers a clear career path and the prospect of training and advancement.
“But GMB Union continues to fight for £15 an hour for care workers – the average annual hourly wage and the least carers deserve.”