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Sat 17 April 2021

As the Supreme Court rejects an attempt to pay care workers for ‘sleep-in’ shifts, Sian Norris reports on the pay disparities in a highly gendered workforce

On Friday, a legal challenge to pay care workers for ‘sleep-in’ shifts was defeated in the Supreme Court, again raising questions about wages for essential staff in the sector.

The ‘sleep-in’ shift is when an employee has to sleep at their workplace with a ‘listening ear’, so that they can assist if a care home resident is in need of help. 

Mencap employee Clare Tomlinson-Blake, supported by the trade union Unison, argued that workers should be paid the minimum wage for nightshifts even if they are asleep. 

If Tomlinson-Blake had won, the cost to the care sector would have amounted to £400 million in back-pay. 

The Coronavirus crisis has thrust the treatment and remuneration of care workers into the spotlight, as a low-paid, mostly female workforce looked after the UK’s most vulnerable people during the height of the pandemic – often putting their own health at risk. A total of 268 social care workers died of COVID-19 in the UK in 2020.

Now, data analysed by Byline Times can reveal the pay disparities affecting the workforce. 


Gender Pay Gaps

The social care workforce is predominantly female, with 80% of workers in the adult social care sector women. Of the total jobs available, 74% – or 1.3 million – involve giving direct care. The remaining opportunities are in management, administration or ‘professional’ roles such as social workers and occupational therapists. 

Byline Times has looked at the gender pay gap data for the UK’s biggest social care providers, including Four Seasons, Barchester Healthcare, HC-One, and Runwood Homes. 

Unsurprisingly, with such high levels of female employment, the median hourly gender pay gap across these organisations was fairly narrow.

Four Seasons had a 4% gap; HC-One was at 0.4%; Barchester Healthcare was at 3% and Runwood 1.1%. Other providers reported similarly: the Priory Group was slightly higher at 5.13%, while Acer Healthcare (part of the Maria Mallaband group, the gap for which was 41.%) was 9.9%

But the mean hourly gender pay gap tended to be higher across the board. The highest was at Runwood Homes, at 24.8%; closely followed by Four Seasons at 21%. HC-One LTD had a mean hourly wage gap of 8.1%; while Barchester was the lowest at 6.7%. At Acer, the mean gap was 9.5%; although at Maria Mallaband it was 2.1%.

Much higher levels of pay gaps can be found when examining bonus pay. 

The mean bonus gap at Runwood Homes was 88.1% (the median was 17%); while at HC-One, the mean bonus gap was 65.3%. The company’s median bonus gap of 80.8% translates to women earning 19p for every £1 of bonus pay men earn. This translates to HC-One’s directorial structure: all of the directors listed on Companies House are male. 

Four Seasons had a median bonus gap of 6.2% in favour of women, while its mean gap was 22.5% in favour of men. Of all employees receiving bonuses, 57.4% of those who received bonus pay were men, compared to 36.9% of women. 

At Barchester Healthcare, the median and mean bonus pay gaps were 14% and 65% respectively. Like HC-One, all of the active directors listed on Companies House are male. 


Big Profits, Low Pay

Social care has become big business in the UK, with millions of pounds of profits made from a growing need to look after an ageing population. However, those big profits don’t reach the pockets of care workers – as the bonus gender pay gaps and other pay disparities reveal. 

The most recent company accounts for Runwood Homes, made up to 30 September 2019, revealed how its highest-paid director received £3,031,804 – with the total directors’ remuneration standing at £4,307,180. In 2018, its previous highest-paid director received £17,196,884. The organisation’s profit after tax was £11,463,316 and it paid out £1,000,000 of dividends throughout the year. 

Compare this to the salaries on offer to care assistants employed by the company: three care assistant jobs in Nottingham, Armagh and Chelmsford were all advertised at £8.76 per hour. In Armagh, the shift pattern was described as “as and when”, with no fixed hours offered. 

A similar disparity is seen at Barchester Healthcare, where directors received a total of £3,418,000 according to accounts made up to 30 December 2019. The highest paid-director received £2,019,000 – an increase of more than a million from the previous year. But, a care assistant working at Barchester Healthcare receives “up to £9 a hour”. This means that, working 35 hours a week, a care assistant would earn £315. Meanwhile, the highest-paid director earns £38,826 per calendar week. 

Four Seasons accounts analysed by Ian Birrell in The Tortoise discovered that the company paid its “highest-paid director almost £2.4 million over the two most recent years for which there is published account information – and £10.1 million to all its directors over four years”. 

According to jobs advertised on its website, a Four Seasons care assistant on a fixed hours a week contract in Bristol is paid £9.11 per hour; in Berwick-upon-Tweed it’s £8.73 per hour. A bank care assistant on a zero-hour contract in London receives £10.65 per hour, while in Stockport the same job is advertised at between £9.50-£10.65 per hour.

Four Seasons describes its care assistants as “extraordinary people” working in “extraordinary times”.


Complex Structures 

HC-One LTD has a complex structure with six parent companies listed on Companies House. The “person with significant control” is listed as Fc Skyfall Upper Midco Limited and had operating profits, according to accounts made up to 30 September 2019, of £25,666,000. HC-One advertises care assistant jobs at £8.72 per hour

Fc Skyfall Upper Midco Limited holds investments either directly or indirectly in dozens of “subsidiary undertakings” including numerous undertakings based in Jersey and the Cayman Islands. 

According to Birrell’s analysis, HC-One “has an opaque structure of 62 companies under an ultimate parent company called FC Skyfall in the Cayman Islands, along with 17 more companies registered in this secretive tax haven”. 

The company told Birrell: “Our group structure is in line with most others in the care sector. We have made no shareholder dividend payments since 2017 and pay an asset management fee of just 1% of revenue. We own the majority of homes we operate and our debt is therefore modest in comparison to our assets. Moreover, HC-One is a committed UK taxpayer and all our income is subject to UK taxes.”

Barchester Healthcare has numerous subsidiary undertakings, including Lakeside Residential Home Limited in Jersey. Its principal activity is “that of an intermediate holding company”. Birrell’s research revealed that Barchester “is owned by three prominent Irish billionaires – Dermot Desmond, JP McManus and John Magnier – through a parent company in Jersey with 72 other firms in its structure”.

Its operating profit in its 2019 accounts was £41 million and an interim dividend of £9.1 million was paid out throughout the year.

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