Home Care – rising prices reflect rising costs

BBC South’s Inside Out will tonight explore the rising cost of home care and in particular look at why Oxfordshire County Council pays providers the highest rate in the country to deliver much needed services in people’s homes.

To people working in, and close to, the care sector, the rising cost comes at no great surprise. Three major surveys by national newspapers (The Guardian 2014, Daily Telegraph 2015, and Independent March 2016) variously describe Oxford and/ or Oxfordshire as having the most expensive house prices, or being the most unaffordable place to buy a home in the UK.

Oxford and its surrounding towns and villages are similar to many other sought after locations in the south of England in that relative prosperity, good schools and access to the magnet of London salaries combine to inflate house prices. However, Oxford has unique pressures, being an international university city and a substantial tourist attraction beyond its relative size.  These factors coupled with the County being home to many highly paid commuters to London create soaring house prices and rents.

The Guardian reported in 2014 that the average house in Oxford costs 14.9 times the city’s average salary; this situation not helped by the lack of any affordable homes coming on to the market that year.  The average Oxford house costs £340,864, according to Lloyds Bank, and local businesses complain the cost of housing is the greatest limit to growth.
When we look at average  wages for a care worker at about £8.09 ph or £15,200 pa according to Skills for Care’s NMDS, the problem is immediately evident in a place where there is a shortage of labour for more highly paid jobs.

A passing look at rents this week leaves little affordability for care workers:

  • Didcot – nothing under £250pcm and just 1 between £250 – 500pcm with median rent for a flat at £836 pcm
  • Abingdon – nothing under £250 pcm and just 2 rentals available between £250 – £500 with median rent for a flat at £875 pcm
  • Oxford – just 4 rents available under £250pcm with a median rent for a flat at £1,650 pcm, and
  • Oxfordshire – just 4 under £250pcm with average rent for a flat at £1,603pcm

Rental prices in all other comparable places are lower: (Surrey – average rent £1,258; Buckinghamshire –average rent £1028; and Hampshire –average rent £869pcm).

The difficulties in delivering home care are compounded by the rurality of the County. Much home care needs to be delivered within the mealtime windows of breakfast, lunch and tea, two of which are key points of the day when the rest of us are trying to get to and from our own workplaces.

Care workers do not qualify as key workers for affordable housing like teachers, NHS nurses or fire workers, so they have to compete alongside retail staff and other similarly paid workforce. Care workers are less likely to travel long distances to work due to their low pay. These are all the ingredients for labour wage inflation, but care is caught in a public sector funding squeeze without the additional bail-out funding afforded to the NHS.

Home care in particular, and social care as a whole sector, needs both a short term fix and a long term solution.