(Bloomberg) -- Many UK social-care workers are unlawfully paid less than the minimum wage once their travel costs are included and would earn more at supermarkets Aldi and Lidl, a new report on the sector found.

Low pay and understaffing are likely to worsen already chronic problems in the social-care sector at a time when the population is ageing and more in need of care than ever, the Resolution Foundation think warned in its report, Who Cares?

Care staff shortages have been blamed in part for the crisis in the National Health Service because elderly hospital patients have nowhere to go and cannot be released, tying up beds for those in need of urgent help. Better pay would help fix the problem, Resolution said.

Its report found widespread examples of unlawful pay, understaffing and unsafe working conditions that threaten to deepen the sector’s troubles.

“Until care wages rise, the sector will be forever in a state of crisis,” Gavin Edwards, head of social care at the Unison union, said in response to the report. “An enhanced minimum wage and payment for every hour worked in care would help improve the sector’s dreadful vacancy rates.”

Resolution found that care workers take pride in their job but struggle with overwork and underpay. England’s 620,000 domiciliary care workers are rarely paid for their travel time between clients’ homes, despite it being included in minimum-wage calculations. 

‘Worst Thing’

Resolution said the arrangement means many are paid 30p (37 US cents) an hour below the adult minimum wage. 

Workers in care homes, of which there are about 445,000, complain of staff shortages that force them to carry out tasks on their own that are meant for two people.

Vacancies have shot up as relative pay has fallen. The pay premium social-care workers historically commanded relative to other low-paid jobs to reflect the additional skills and challenges involved fell from 5% to just 1% in the decade to 2021.

Staff told Resolution researchers that said “you can basically get paid more at Lidl or Aldi” and pay was “the worst thing” about their job.

Resolution called for a higher, sector-specific wage floor for care work, with minimum pay £2 above the adult minimum wage, and measures to ensure domiciliary care workers are paid for their travel time.

Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the Resolution, said: “Addressing these problems isn’t cost-free but it is urgent given the chronic shortage of care workers. Improving working conditions is the only route to making it more attractive for new recruits and giving our ageing society the level of care it deserves.”

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.