HR & Management

The Living Wage debate: Caring for those that care is just good business

6 min read

28 May 2015

Former editor

Picture care workers, cleaners and catering staff. These traditional women’s jobs have the unenviable distinction of being three of the lowest paid jobs in the UK – typically well below £10 per hour. And that’s a big problem – particularly in the adult social care sector, where attracting the very best is important to deliver quality of care.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) is tackling the problem head on, launching the latest competition in the UK Futures Programme to test innovative workplace solutions to the issue of inequality in gender pay and opportunity in our economy, with a focus on the low pay areas of adult social care, commercial cleaning and commercial catering. 

In shaping the competition, UKCES asked Robert Stephenson-Padron from Penrose Care to share his experience of how valuing the women who make up his frontline workforce pays dividends for his business.

Who are you and what does your business do?   

I’m Robert Stephenson-Padron, managing director of Penrose Care. We’re a small, but fast-growing home care provider based in Hampstead, north London. The vision of Penrose Care is simple – we aspire to deliver excellent and professional home care services to our clients (mainly elderly people and people with disabilities) combined with compassion so that all those that we care for feel just that – cared for. This vision drives our whole organisation’s culture and operating practices. 

Is gender inequality a real problem in the adult social care sector?

The adult social care workforce in England is 82 per cent female. This means the gender inequality problem in the sector is not about a lack of female representation, as it is in IT or engineering for example. Instead it’s about structurally poor working conditions. Poor pay and insecurity of hours are common in the industry and aren’t good for the women who make up most of the workforce. 

At Penrose Care our view is that poor conditions for staff are bad for service users because the quality of care suffers when workers struggle to make ends meet or face the stress of uncertainty at work. Concern about the quality of care is widespread and in 2011 an enquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into home care found “many instances of home care which caused us real concern, where human rights were breached or put at risk because of the way care was delivered”.

A report by the National Audit Office found that between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers are paid below the UK national minimum wage as a result of deductions in pay for uniforms and non-payment of travel time between client visits. We believe poor working conditions are the primary source of high staff turnover in the sector and that directly impacts on quality.   

Read more from our “Gender inequality in the workplace” focus:

What’s different about your approach to your staff?

In the autumn of 2012 Penrose Care became one of the first four home care providers in the UK to become an accredited Living Wage employer and we also committed to paying for travel time between client visits. In October 2013 we rolled out an occupational sick pay scheme in line with Citizens UK’s Social Care Charter. These concrete ethical measures have been combined with top-of-the-range training, an honest and open work environment, and a very responsive management team. Unfortunately, to date, this type of package to support the workforce remains the exception and not the rule among providers of adult social care. 

What benefits have you seen from this approach?

Our commitment to operating Penrose Care ethically benefits our service users as well as our staff. Care is a person-to-person service, and so by attracting and retaining the best people in the sector, we believe we are providing among the best home care in England. There are clear business benefits – Penrose Care has extremely low staff turnover, high morale, and consistent excellent feedback from our clients. 

What advice would you give to other employers?

In social care, being good is good for business. Retaining good staff matters to our clients who value consistency and strong relationships sustained over time. So it matters to me and the health of my business. If I can keep my talented staff I can be surer of the quality of my offer to clients. If I spend less time recruiting new people I can spend more time growing the business.   

It’s straightforward business sense; but it’s also less stress for me and I can take real pride in Penrose Care’s contribution to helping create decent lives for the women who work for me and the people they care for.