Tax the wealthy to give care workers a pay rise, don’t raid ordinary workers’ pockets | Frances O’Grady
In a week’s time, the TUC will hold its 153rd congress in London. Shortly before I get up to give my annual address, a short film will be played of some care workers I met in Middleton, Greater Manchester, this summer.
What they told me about working through the pandemic will always stay with me. Coping without personal protective equipment. The trauma of seeing the people they were caring for – and some of their colleagues – die from Covid. One care worker, Carol, who supports adults with complex needs, told me: “We have their lives in our hands 24 hours a day.” A huge responsibility – but Carol earns less than the national minimum wage. It is disgraceful.
The dedication shown by our social care staff during this crisis must no longer be taken for granted. Every care worker in Britain should be paid a wage they can live on and treated with dignity at work.
But in the UK seven in 10 social care staff earn less than £10 an hour and one in four are employed on zero-hours contracts.
There has been no mention so far of supporting the care workforce in all the chatter about last week’s forthcoming proposals on funding social care . Instead, ministers seem focused on selling their plan to wallop workers through higher national insurance contributions.
Our social care system needs a cash injection, but this isn’t the right way to do it. Young and low-paid workers, who have already borne the brunt of this pandemic, would see a disproportionate hit from an NI hike. It’s not right to hit them when ministers are leaving the wealthy untouched.
That is why the TUC is today calling on the government to raise capital gains tax (CGT) to provide a long-term funding settlement for our social care system, starting with paying all care workers at least £10 an hour.
Increasing CGT to the same level as income tax, and getting rid of exemptions, could raise up to £17bn a year for social care. That money would improve services and upgrade pay and conditions for those looking after our loved ones.
A wealth tax would help deliver a new deal for social care: a long-term, sustainable funding model that actually improves quality of service and gives care workers the dignity and security they deserve.
It beggars belief that under current tax arrangements a low-paid social care worker pays a bigger share of her earnings to fund the social care system than the private equity magnate who profits from asset-stripping care homes. This is fundamentally unjust. That’s why we say to ministers: tax wealth to fund social care – don’t raid workers’ pockets and don’t forget about care workers.
An overwhelming majority of the public believe that all care workers should paid at least £10 per hour – including more than three-quarters of workers who voted Conservative in the 2019 general election.
Labour already supports a £10-an-hour wage for our care staff. Now it’s time that the Conservatives did too. Any government that is truly serious about “building back better” or “levelling up” Britain would boost pay and conditions for care staff. After all, if levelling up or building back better is to mean anything, surely it means tackling insecure work and delivering better pay and conditions in every corner of the UK because care workers live and work in every village, town and city.
That’s why ministers must get back to the drawing board. A plan that has nothing to say about the social care workforce isn’t a complete plan.
It’s time to raise taxes on wealth to fund social care properly and guarantee decent pay for all social care workers.
• Frances O’Grady is general secretary of the TUC