All sides of the House have rightly recognised the immense sacrifice and service to this country made by our health and care workforces, but it is now time to put our money where our mouths are and start to recognise and reward those staff. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches have argued through this crisis for a package of frontline support, including something akin to the deployment allowance given to the military frontline. We should have a frontline service award of a daily allowance during this crisis, but beyond that, this is not the time for a pay freeze. Negotiations on public sector pay must reflect the service and sacrifice that many on the frontline have made for us and our loved ones.
In social care, many do not work in the public sector. Two million people in care jobs are largely on the minimum wage. Half are on zero-hours contracts, yet they are undertaking highly skilled work, taking care of the most vulnerable and providing intimate care. They are often not paid benefits or for travel time, which can be significant in London. It is possible to earn more money stacking shelves in Tesco. It is important to recognise that they have very few career prospects and little training. The pay differential between careworkers with less than a year of experience and those with more than 20 years’ experience has now reduced to just 15p an hour. That is because of the funding crisis in social care, which is keeping those wages down. The case for ensuring that our careworkers are at the very least paid the real living wage is overwhelming and a moral imperative.
In the longer term, to tackle the workforce crisis and put social care on an equal footing with the NHS, pay scales must be reviewed and ideally aligned with the NHS, but that obviously needs to go hand in hand with tackling the long-term funding crisis in social care. Those reforms are well overdue.
We know there is a huge number of migrant workers in social care and in the NHS. The figure is one in seven in the NHS and one in six in the care workforce. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches have argued through the crisis that the cruel policy of no recourse to public funds must be suspended. That is particularly relevant for those on the frontline who may be reticent to take time off or self-isolate because they are only eligible for statutory sick pay, which, frankly, is not enough to live on. A number of other benefits are not available to them, but, most importantly, when people have put their lives on the line for us and our loved ones, we must recognise those workers by granting them indefinite leave to remain. A visa extension is not enough. It is not enough to just take their service and say, “Bye bye. Thank you very much.” We have a moral responsibility to allow them to stay.