Cabinet members agreed a range of increases after hearing of continuing cost pressures in the care sector - including a forthcoming hike in the national living wage to £9.50 per hour from April for those aged 23 or over.
While the fee rises - also to be implemented from April - are intended to help care firms fund that legally-binding 6.6 percent jump in minimum pay, councillors were told that there was currently no mechanism by which County Hall could force companies to use the uplifts to improve wages across the board.
Cabinet member for adult services Graham Gooch said that he was “pleasantly surprised” that the minimum wage was going up by much more than the two percent that had been forecast.
He said that the work done by care staff was “always valuable, but is particularly so during these difficult times”, adding: “We cannot contractually compel the service providers to pay their staff any particular level of pay but we are determined to give those providers sufficient money to enable them to pay this well-deserved increase.”
However, Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali queried whether contacts could be amended in future in order to stipulate that “when there are uplifts, there is some reflection of that for staff”.
County Cllr Gooch said he had been given legal advice to the contrary, but pledged to clarify the situation as he believed it would be “helpful” if the authority could do so.
The national living wage is increasing for 21 and 22-year-olds this spring to £9.18 per hour - a leap of 9.8 percent - while there will be increases for 16-17 and 18-20-year-olds of 4.1 percent from the current rates for each of those age bands.
The cabinet meeting heard that an invite by the county council to its usual homecare providers to request an unplanned fees increase last November - to help them cope with staff shortages - had led to a £1.33 per hour top-up for such companies.
That rise will now be made permanent from April as part of the authority’s annually-agreed increases for care services. That will include uplifts of between 5.5 and 5.7 percent for residential care and a fraction over six percent for extra care sheltered accommodation and supported living schemes.
Direct payment to individuals who choose to buy in their own care will go up by 4.1 percent.
County Cllr Gooch said: “We have continued to experience unprecedented challenges in the care sector due to the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic, which is due to increased costs for some providers in terms of staffing and, in some cases, reduced income, due to reduced occupancy and reduce attendance levels at some facilities.
“Homecare has seen particular challenges with increased demand as more people have been reluctant to go into residential care.”