Industry leaders say Scotland’s care system is “on its knees” as workers struggle with low pay and long hours and poor working conditions.
New figures from the Health Foundation show that one in five carers in Britain was living in poverty even before the cost of living crisis, with union GMB calling for wages to be increased to £15 an hour.
Lynn Black, CEO of Love Group – a provider of residential and home care services across Scotland – said some staff toil 80 hours a week “just to survive”, adding record numbers are leaving the sector to do better elsewhere find paid jobs.
She said many turn to payday loans to make ends meet. Staff earn an average of £4 to £6 an hour as they are not paid for the time they spend traveling between jobs.
She told STV News: “The job offers very few benefits and the sector is in complete crisis. It grinds to the limit.
“Our workers are at the bottom when it comes to wages. Nobody wants to go into the care sector when supermarkets can give you more money and benefits.”
Lynn explains that caregivers like Love Group are contracted by local government, which dictates how much they can pay their employees.
She said profit is normally allocated to adult care workers who are paid the lowest, but without government help “only a limited amount can be done”.
“The workers who stay here are here because they care,” she said. “They are the unsung heroes who risked their lives during Covid. They are the backbone of society.
“The impact of the cost of living crisis will be felt across the sector and impact services.
“We don’t appreciate them enough. One day I’ll need nurturing, you’ll need nurturing. Everyone in society will be affected at some point in the future.”
Caregiver Fiona Leach said some of her colleagues are using food banks and forgoing food as household expenses are skyrocketing.
She said it now costs about £100 more a month to fill up her car and she also faces rising energy bills. Nurses can charge 45p per mile for commuting to and from work, but not for their daily commute.
“I used to be able to fill up my car three or four times, but it’s a lot more expensive.
“Some employees go without food. Managers will talk to them and either provide them with something (food) or take them to a shop. We shouldn’t do that in this day and age.
“I cut down and buy less and cook in bulk what I can afford.”
Ms Leach explained that workers are not paid if their regular customers go to hospital, which could result in two or three hours of wages being lost a day.
“It’s a huge part of our wages. It’s not fair to the staff.
“I do this for the customers. They make me smile, sometimes you’re the only person they see daily. But it’s my job and our services are in such high demand.”
One of her clients is Janet Murdoch, who received a care package after several falls.
She said caregivers deserve much better wages and conditions as they are under “terrible” pressure amid growing demand – some working nights from 7am to 10pm.
“I couldn’t have lived without her. Getting out of bed was a nightmare,” she said. “It puts my family at ease.
“The girls work under terrible pressure. Traveling from patient to patient and trying to give them their allotted time is a tall order.
“Covid has destroyed healthcare. I don’t know what the answer is, but we need a lot more staff.”
Rachel Harrison, national officer for the GMB union, said: “Carers are an immensely skilled, compassionate workforce doing incredibly difficult work.
“Instead of being adequately remunerated, they are expected to survive just above minimum wage.
Basic services are provided by underpaid and mostly female workers.
“And without the commitment of our nurses, the whole house of cards will come crashing down.
“GMB is committed to ensuring carers earn no less than £15 an hour – that’s the minimum they earn.”