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Our investigation into the broken care system has revealed thousands of care workers struggling with poverty pay, a lack of sick pay and gruelling working conditions, all made worse by the pandemic.

And despite care workers’ incredible service during the past 15 months, not all councils are signed up to pay Unison’s charter to pay the Real Living Wage (RLW), £9.50 an hour outside London, and £10.85 in London.

And while some councils in-house services might pay the RLW, they still have no power to force any private care companies they commission to do the same.

Today, in the second part of our series, we hear directly from care workers who tell us what their lives are like on the frontline…. and why a clap was never enough.

Our investigation into the broken care system was in partnership with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ITV News.

'I can't afford to retire'

Sian Stockham, 66, from Abergavenny, Wales, works 40 hours a week, across two caring jobs as carers, working 40 hours in total per week, including several ‘sleep-ins’, where she’ll stay overnight with a client.

One of her roles – for a private company providing care for adults with learning disabilities on behalf of Monmouthshire Council – pays just £8.91 an hour and her £70 sleep-in pay could be reduced to £30 next year.

What can be done about this crisis? Join the discussion in the comment section

Care worker Sian Stockham from Abergavenny
(Image: Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

Sian is expected to administer medication, help with personal hygiene, shopping, cooking and medical appointments.

As she says: Sian says: “I love my job but we are not paid for the value of the job.

“I am 66 but I can’t afford to retire, I wish I could, but I can’t.

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“I just about survive. I’m living from one pay cheque to another.

“I know carers who have children and they rely on the benefit system so they can top up their wages. The care sector is the forgotten service.”

Monmouthshire is not signed up to Unison’s charter, although the Welsh government recently insisted it would pay care workers the RLW.

'If I was young it would be a struggle'

Brett Marsden, 53, is from Burnley, Lancs. He has been a carer for 14 years and gets paid £8.91 working with adults who have learning disabilities.

As he says: “My job can be draining and stressful as I work with challenging behaviour.

“The 12-hr shifts are long, the pandemic has made our job harder too and there is a bigger risk of contracting Covid.

Carer Brett Marsden from Colne, near Burnley
(Image: Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

Sian is unhappy with the situation
(Image: Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

“We usually get paid around £43 a sleep-in – cut from £75. People doing the same job in Blackburn with Darwen are getting £18 more than staff paid under the Lancashire County Council.

“I do about six to eight sleep-ins a month and this extra money tops up my low-paid wage.

“The more and more I look at this, we just need better terms and conditions, to cover Covid-related absences not cuts to pay and terms and conditions.”

Lancs is signed up to Unison’s Charter on care work, but not the Real Living Wage clause.

Ian Crabtree, Lancashire County Council’s director of adult disability and care services, said: “Care workers do a superb job in often difficult circumstances… Supporting care staff is a priority for us.”

'I’ve lost £1,500 a year in wages'

Christine Davies, 52, works as a support worker with adults who have learning disabilities. She’s spent 22 years as a carer and now works 39 hours per week for a private company providing care on behalf of Liverpool City and Wirral Borough Councils.

She was being paid the Real Living Wage of £9.30 but this was cut to £8.91 in May 2021 and her sleep-in fee was slashed from £66.87 to £58.

“The council is saying they have the funding but the company is not accepting it,” she says.

“It is almost a drop of £1,500 a year in my wages.

The Mirror’s Fair Care for All campaign

The Mirror’s Fair Care for All campaign calls for all older people to be treated with dignity and respect.

Our demands include the creation of national care service to run alongside the NHS, the appointment of minister for the elderly and a properly-funded care system that works for everyone.

The campaign also calls for a fair deal for care workers.

We are calling for carers to be paid the real Living Wage, an end to home visits of 15 minutes or less and an increase in the allowance for unpaid carers.

“I struggle financially, once the rent and bills are paid. If I was living alone, I wouldn’t be able to survive.

“What about people with children? They have to turn to food banks for help.

“We get emails from management saying thank you for all our hard work but all the goodwill in the world is not going to pay the bills.

“I’ve tried emailing my MP but they say they can’t make the company pay.

“We feel so undervalued especially with the commitment and service we gave during Covid, we worked long and extra hours to reduce the footfall in the service to keep the people we support safe. We deserve to be on the Living Wage, so when it was put down this year, it was demoralising.

“We feel undervalued while everyone else is getting bonuses. We are the forgotten people.”

Liverpool City Council is not signed up to the RLW part of the charter.

Wirral Council says it’s offering extra funds to private care providers who’ll agree to pay the RLW.

'You’re only getting paid for some of what you do'

Debbie, lives in the Midlands and has been working with vulnerable adults, for more than 20 years.

She says: “When I first started you’d have a set day, set hours and set pay.

“Now you’re only getting paid for some of what you do – you could be at work for ten hours but you only get paid for seven, not the travelling.

“It means you end up getting a much lower hourly rate – it can be less than the minimum wage.

“The local authority offered me £9.20 per hour when I first started then £9.80 per hour for a senior role, with 20 pence a mile, mileage. For one day at work I’d usually do 8.5 hours without a break and get paid for six hours.

“By the time I’d paid my rent, my bills, my council tax I’d have nothing left, I’d have to make sure I had fuel in my car for work too.”

'It wasn’t easy to make enough to cover even my basic living costs'

Kiri Williams, 38, lives in Blackwood, Caerphilly. She is a self-employed carer and previously worked for companies contracted by local authorities.

She says: “We’re paid terribly and treated just as bad.

“I got paid only £4.50 for each half-hour call – care companies are uncompromising.

Kiri Williams struggled on low wages

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“I had to clock in and out by scanning a code on my phone.

“If I spent longer with a person, I wouldn’t get paid for that time.

“It wasn’t easy to make enough to cover even my basic living costs. The most I ever got paid was £9 an hour; the least was £8.25.

"I worked from 6am through to 10 at night. My breaks were my driving time.

Kiri recalls long hours on low pay

“Sometimes the kids had to come with me in the car while I visited clients. I prayed I wouldn’t get spot-checked.

“In the end, I became unwell and was signed off work.”

Caerphilly is not signed up to the charter but the Welsh government recently agreed to pay the RLW to all its care workers.

Not soon enough for Kiri.

'I’ll have to leave'

Justina*, 36, from Cumbria earns £9.20 an hour caring for elderly and people with mental health issues – on behalf of Cumbria Council.

A lone parent, she struggles to make ends meet and feels unappreciated.

“I love my job but I told my boss if anything else comes up I’ll have to leave,” she says.

“I’d go and sort packages if I have to. At one point I was working three jobs.”

The care crisis in numbers

£16 billion – the amount of cuts councils have seen from central government since 2010.

£10billion – recently estimated funding gap for social care.

£3.9billion – the emergency fund being called for by the Future Social Care Commission.

More than 60% – care worker jobs advertised in the past six months paid less than the Real Living Wage (more than 7,000 jobs across Britain.)

37 out of 43 – areas with care jobs advertised at below Real Living Wage despite pledges by local authorities.

£2.2million – the total amount of hardship grants given out last year by the Care Workers’ Charity, an increase of 1,150%.

Her low pay has meant going without basics like clothes for her children and a computer.

During lockdown, this meant getting up at at 4am to download her children’s classwork on a mobile then copying it out by hand onto paper – before setting off for a shift that could be15 hours long.

She was recently injured at work and had to survive on £96.35 a week so has been tempted to return to work.

As she explains: “I was only thinking about the money that I would lose. You know, I wouldn't care if I was crippled for the rest of my life if there is money coming into my bank account.”

Cumbria County Council’s in-house Cumbria Care pays the RLW, and it offers incentives to private care companies to do the same.

A spokesman said: “We will continue to encourage providers to pay the Real Living Wage where they do not already, but we have no legal powers to make them do so.”