A report heard by the authority’s cabinet committee on Tuesday revealed that up to 200 of the most vulnerable people in the county are being forced to wait for vital home care services because of an “unprecedented workforce crisis” in the sector.
The easing of Covid restrictions last year saw large numbers of staff quit to take up or return to roles in the revived leisure and hospitality industry.
At the meeting, councillors unanimously voted in favour £3.4m injection to boost wages in a bid to encourage them to return – or at least keep hold of the workers which remain.
This extra cash will be used to make care providers increase pay in line with the “Real Living Wage” of £9.90 per hour, as set by the Living Wage Foundation.
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Neil Bradley, service director for strategic commissioning and finance at Northumberland County Council (NCC), said that once inflation in taken into account, the pay rise would cost the council £1.7m.
He said: “This is an attempt to try and assist with the situation by bringing minimum salaries for care workers in Northumberland up to the level of the real living wage.
“The real living wage is something that is calculated by the living wage foundation, it is determined on the basis of a number of costs they look at to determine a reasonable standard of living and it is different to the national living wage which is a statutory level that providers have to pay which is based around a proportion of median earnings.
“The two are on a trajectory to come together at around about 2024 because clearly wages rise more quickly than costs do generally.
“This proposal probably would have been unaffordable to the council five or six years ago because the gap was so large between the national living wage and the real living wage.
“In actual fact, in April this year we expect the differential to only be 4% or 4.2%, which means it would cost the council around £3.4m to bring forward implementing that level of salary two years early in essence we would have probably got to it in 2024 anyway.
“When our corporate finance team has remodelled the medium term financial plan it actually brings the cost down to £1.7m in a four-year period because we’re bringing forward some inflation now, so the net cost would be £1.7m over four years.”
However, he admitted that people who pay their own care fees and Northumberland CCG would be hit in the pocket by the changes.
He added: “There are two implications, one of full cost fee payers because they would be liable to pay a higher fee rate as well if we offered it to providers that would be an overall impact of around £300,000 on that sector and the CCG would be affected to the tune of about £1.3m for the care we purchase on their behalf for people that have a continuing health care package.”