The Social Care White Paper: Does it do enough to show carers we care?

Posted: 4th February 2022 Kirsty Hicks, Consultant

“I am proud to say that I have a career in social care!”

But the sector is struggling. Headlines report of high levels of carers isolating due to covid-19; carers leaving the sector because of the vaccination mandate; and care being ‘rationed’ due to capacity issues. I have been reflecting on my own journey into the sector and considered what can be done to solve the workforce crisis.

After A-Levels I started a degree in Psychology, but it didn’t work out as I imagined. So, at 19 I applied for a job as a carer working with adults with Autism and learning disabilities, like my mum. It wasn’t a career I had considered when planning my options for GCSE or college. I fell into it.

Fast forward to today. I am three months into my work as a Consultant at Altair, supporting organisations that provide housing, care, and support to people who need it. Care equipped me with the skills I need to support other organisations to be better. It’s because of this journey that I have a fiery passion for the work undertaken by the many people in the social care sector. A sector that employs over 1.5 million people in England alone, around 5% of the total employee workforce.

But the care sector is facing the ‘perfect storm’ – increasing demand and higher level of care needs in the context of significant challenges recruiting and retaining staff. In short, we do not have enough individuals in the sector to meet demand. This has been confirmed with this months’ announcement that care workers have been added to the shortage occupation list.

The White Paper

So, I was interested to see government’s strategy around building workforce capacity in the December 2021 social care white paper, “People at the Heart of Care”. Section six of the white paper, “Our strategy for the social care workforce” begins with a clear acknowledgement of the dedication the social care workforce makes to the population, particularly through the Covid-19 pandemic. While in the UK, around half of people in employment did some work at home and a quarter of employees were on furlough at some point in 2020, those working in social care continued to travel in to work to care for those most vulnerable in society.

It is quite unbelievable to think back to 23rd March 2020 – those in roles who were unable to work from home, facing fear and uncertainty to levels many of us will have never had to experience. The weight of the dilemma of being completely committed to the people you support, alongside the fear for your own life will have had and continue to have far-reaching consequences.

The acknowledgement of this dedication in the white paper is reassuring, but does it go far enough?

Over the next three years, £500 million will be invested in developing the knowledge, skills, wellbeing, and recruitment policies for the social care sector. I have explored the proposals in more detail, reflecting from my own experience as a care sector worker.

Remuneration

Skills for Care estimates ‘care workers’ earn marginally above the national living wage and whilst most people embark on a career in social care as a vocation, not for the financial benefits, given the responsibility and importance of the sector, carers should be suitably remunerated. The papers sets out that government is increasing the national living wage by 6.6% in 2022 and commits to further increases in the coming years but this does not address the real issue that people can take jobs with a lot less responsibility and risk, for the same money elsewhere.

Training and qualifications

One initiative included in the white paper is the development of portable care certificates and skills passports. There is considerable movement between employers in the sector and the basic training, skills and knowledge required in the sector is consistent, but employers must evidence to the regulator their staff are trained. This results in a lot of repeated training which isn’t efficient. The portable skills passport will allow recognise and protect a carers professional development if they move between employers, demonstrating that training and development is valued. Managers and employers have a responsibility to demonstrate their workforce has completed the required training to the regulator. So, this will reduce the time and expense of having to put experienced individuals through the same training when they move between employers.

Mental health among care staff

Social care workers often work in highly pressurised environments, have to balance competing and important demands, often work alone and are subject to the emotional impact of grief at the loss of someone they have been supporting. Analysis of data by HSE showed that health and social work activities had significantly higher levels of workers who experience work-related stress, anxiety, and depression. The white paper pledges investment of funding in the development of a comprehensive wellbeing and occupational health offer for the social care sector. This is recognition of the emotional strain those working in social care carry and the importance of good mental wellbeing in offering resilience to cope with these demands.

Attracting new talent to social care

The final element of section six of the white paper, which I believe is most fundamental to building a sustainable sector for the future, is the principle of attracting new people to careers in social care. The white paper commits to providing funding to local authorities to reform their local markets. This will include local authorities paying employers a rate that is reflective of the local economy and the duties undertaken. This may encourage employers to individually increase their pay but is likely to drive movement within the sector, rather than into the sector. This will not help the workforce grow.

There will be a continued promotion of careers in social care through the Department of Work and Pensions, governments department for helping people become financially independent through securing employment. DWP will be tasks to engage with both prospective employees and employers to match opportunities and encourage people to consider starting a career in social care, helping increase capacity in the workforce.

National change of this nature will take significant resource, time, and investment but is it enough to solve the significant staffing issues social care faces right now? Could the white paper have gone further? I think so.

As a sector, we should call for health and social care roles to be more integral in the career guidance curriculum in schools. Further education courses in Health and Social Care should be rebranded, promoting social care nationally as a career offering as many opportunities and rewards as medical counterparts, such as nursing. Finally, there should be a requirement for local authorities to only procure services from providers who pay their staff above a ‘social care minimum wage’ – setting the wage above the national living wage to ensure the responsibilities are recognised and remunerated proportionately.

Housing providers have for some time played an invaluable role in providing quality homes and care. Altair is excited to be currently conducting a piece of research into the role of housing providers in the delivery of care and support. We are working in partnership with The Guinness Partnership and Housing 21 to explore how housing with care providers will step up to the challenge to deliver on government’s white paper vision.

Kirsty: Altair expert on social care, discussing the white paper

To find out more about Kirsty and her experience in the care sector, click here.

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