County councillors have begun to work out how they can mend an "unsustainable" care sector in Essex.

At a meeting on Tuesday (October 12), Councillor John Spence, who is responsible for adult social care in Essex, committed to improving working conditions for carers across the county after warnings that care workers could earn more "picking pears".

But Cllr Spence said that paying care workers a Real Living Wage, which is currently £9.50 per hour, would cost Essex taxpayers £15 million and is a decision which must be "properly costed".

Cllr Spence said: "We have the responsibility to spend the money our residents give us.

"We have responsibility to ensure all the conflicting priorities before us are weighed up and decisions made in that overall context, which is why we have a budget process."

Cllr Spence said he is "very firmly committed" to improving the lives of care workers who work for the county council directly and those in the private sector.

He said big financial decisions must be made in an "orderly" way.

He said: "We do want to see pay increase.

"But the answer lies in the new Health and Care Bill and social care reforms.

"No one here is opposing the notion that we want to see this progressed."

His words follow a warning by the council's adult social care director that the current situation is "unsustainable".

At a Health and Wellbeing Board meeting in September, Nick Presmeg said: "The care market is very stressed and very stretched - you can earn more money picking pears than you can providing domiciliary care.

"If you work 40 hours a week you will earn £17,000 and you will have travel costs.

"That is not sustainable."

Mr Presmeg said better pay is needed to attract more people to the sector.

The Real Living Wage is set by the Living Wage Foundation to reflect the amount a worker needs to earn to cover their day-to-day costs.

It is different to the National Living Wage, the legal minimum hourly wage which an employer can pay someone aged over 23, which stands at £8.91.