There is a danger in asking the Prime Minister ‘would you do the job of a care worker for £18,000 a year?’ Clearly the question is designed to see how he defends the absurdity of paying people wages that often mean they are reliant on foodbanks and/or benefits. But it can also lead you to conclude that anyone could be a care worker. Diminishing both the skills and experience many care workers bring to their roles, at the same time as diminishing the caring itself.
Perhaps equally worrying is that we then miss how currently being employed in paid caring, whether in social care or health care, rather than being a route out of inequality, it often embeds inequality. This certainly appears to be the case for Britain’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Whilst getting accurate and comparable numbers is a challenge, it appears that in 2021 there were around 347,300 Black, Asian and Minority ethnic working in social care making up around 23 per cent of social care workforce. In terms of health care, there were around 217,860 Black, Asian and Minority ethnic people, making up around 13 per cent of people working in health care. These figures not only highlighted that the NHS is the biggest single employer of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in Western Europe, but also that together social and health care are the biggest source of employment for these communities. Social and health care employ some 13 per cent of the 4.3 million Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in work, in 2021. This compares with around 7.4 per cent of White communities in work in the same period.
Whilst professions in social care (for example social work) as well as in health care (such as nursing) continue to attract Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, particularly women, the experience once employed remains comparatively poor. In terms of social care the heterogeneity of the sector poses challenges to painting a national picture, but data from Skills for Care and analysis by the Health Foundation, amongst others, suggest that workers from these communities are more likely to be on ‘zero hour contracts’, less likely to be in managerial and supervisory positions, and more often working in the ‘independent sector’. As a consequence, they are more likely to experience low pay, according to an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Whilst the NHS has taken groundbreaking steps, such as the Workforce Race Equality Standard, the overall picture nevertheless mirrors that of social care. We have little data on the experiences of the many people who now work for outsourced services, such as cleaners, but the data for those directly employed by the NHS remains dispiriting. Even in occupations where Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities are present in greater numbers than the general population, such as nursing or medicine, these communities are under-represented the further up the hierarchy you go, and this is true across the NHS. The greater likelihood of having disciplinary action taken against you persists according to WRES analysis and this appears to be accompanied by less likelihood of securing promotion. Worryingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the most recent analysis from NHS Digital suggests that there the ‘Ethnicity Pay Gap’ persists, with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic workers earning around 92p for every £1 earned by their White counterparts.
With 13 per cent Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in employment working in social care and health care, we must recognise that their poorer experiences – including poorer pay – has significant impact on the wider community too. A positive resolution of the current pay dispute is likely to have wider impact, but failure to do so will further embed racial inequality.