The Royal College of Nursing has said that it is “unacceptable” that health care assistants are often paid below the living wage – forcing them to claim benefits to make ends meet.
The Living Wage Foundation calculates the basic cost of living in the UK is £8.30 per hour in London and £7.20 per hour in the rest of the UK. However, the UK-wide minimum wage is £6.19 per hour.
Marking Living Wage Week, Dr Peter Carter, RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary, said the issue particularly affected the RCN’s HCA members who are often paid less than the living wage for the important work they do.
He said: “Despite the vital service HCAs provide the wages being offered do not match, and with rent, utilities and childcare costs all rising they are struggling to make end meet, forcing them to claim benefits – this is unacceptable.”
It is also believed that the rising cost of childcare is wiping out the benefit of working for some parents, another issue which will affect those paid below the living wage.
Dr Carter added: “It is time that HCAs were recognised for their contribution to the health service and paid a wage which reflects this.”
An HCA at a nursing home in Milton Keynes is earning £7 per hour. Her previous role was in the same company while living in South East London, earning just £6.58 per hour.
The HCA was forced to leave London because she could not afford the cost of living. She lives with her husband and young son. Her work is varied and challenging, and includes monitoring the temperature and the food and drink intakes of residents, checking and emptying catheters, and acting as a contact with residents’ families.
The HCA said: “We had to move out of London because of living costs, life was so hard. It was not enough and I tried to work extra hours and work extra jobs but after tax it made no difference.
“I remember one day I had to pay the childminder extra because I was late picking up my son because of the snow. It was the day after I was paid and after that I had £10 left, I could have cried. We just had to call the electric and gas companies and ask them to delay our bills.
“We are not paid enough, we do so much more than we are expected to do. Working in a nursing home is so challenging. I have been training to get more qualifications, and now have an NVQ Level 3 but this only increased my pay from £6.58 to £7 per hour.”