Let’s build a dedicated care workforce fit for the future
When we talk about careers, employment and general work matters, there is a word that, in recent times, has increasingly fallen into disuse: vocation. When it comes to adult social care and the vast majority of care workers who do all they can to support people to live healthier lives with comfort, dignity and respect, I’d say the word is more apt than ever.
In December last year, Health Education England published Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future: A Health and Care Workforce Strategy for England to 2027. That call to action spurred us to launch an adult social care workforce consultation with Skills for Care in February.
The consultation aims to address current and anticipated workforce challenges, seeking ways to deliver greater flexibility in working patterns, regulatory frameworks and the freedom to move between specialisms. This is about meeting the aspirations of current and future professionals so we can expand, enhance and diversify the care workforce in England. In this way, we hope to define a long-term strategy to support our growing and ageing population – and to set this out as part of the health and care workforce strategy we’ll publish later this year. Its findings will also inform the adult social care green paper due in the summer.
What is the social care green paper?
The much-anticipated green paper on social care for older people is set to be published by summer 2018 – although, having been promised before last year’s general election, there were hopes the paper would appear much sooner.
It was also hoped the paper would address needs across the entire adult social care sector. Instead, the paper will be limited to the government’s plans for improving care and support for older people and tackling the challenges presented by an ageing population.
There will be a ‘parallel work stream on working age disabled adults’, but some are concerned this report will focus on getting more disabled people into work.
The government has invited a number of people to advise on the paper, including Paul Burstow, chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence; and Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK. However, no user or care worker representatives have been invited.
During a cabinet reshuffle in early January, Jeremy Hunt became secretary of state for health and social care. Despite already having social care in his mandate, the change gave Hunt lead responsibility for the green paper.
The proposals set out in the paper will build on the additional £2bn the government has provided to meet social care needs, reduce pressures on NHS services and stabilise the social care provider market over the next three years. Once published, the paper will be subject to a full public consultation.
Part of this endeavour involves not only recognising and respecting the compassion and dedication of care workers but also the vast range of skills they have. Allied to this is our intent to improve data collection – we want to know definitively how many people are working in the health and care system, their career paths and how, when and why they might want to leave. This in turn will help us establish better ways to promote social care careers as varied, rewarding and inclusive for both givers and recipients of services.
The health and social care secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made it clear in his recent speech, to grow and retain a quality care workforce, care workers must be afforded the same respect and motivation as those they are tasked to help.
We do see exemplars of this: care providers who make full use of social care apprenticeship schemes to nurture and encourage staff at the beginning of their careers is just one example.
While it is heartening to see the Care Quality Commission State of Care report from October 2017 observe that the vast majority of adults in England receive good or outstanding care, it is still the case that around 20% of care homes are failing to reach the required standards. Lapses in values-based recruitment and an absence of focused professional development are undoubtedly factors in this.
Recruitment based on positive shared values, excellent skills and the promise of career progression would be a winning formula in any sector – and so it must be for care providers, across the board.
There is an elephant in the room of course: the vexed issue of remuneration and the desire of care workers, no matter how dedicated, that they be paid a wage reflecting the value of their work.
The national minimum wage is helping to address this. The average salary for a care worker in the independent sector has risen by 4% since 2015, and full-time staff on the minimum wage have seen a pay increase of up to £2,000 in the last three years.
There will always be those who say it is not enough, but it’s a start – and we are not idle or complacent about the economic pressures faced by many in the care and support sector.
We also need to consider how to support the workforce in responding to new approaches to care, including the increased use of technologies likely to transform caring roles in the future. These new models of care offer the exciting prospect of new, enhanced roles and responsibilities – and we want to make sure the workforce is best placed to make the most of these opportunities.
If we can use these and other mechanisms to help people enjoy work and life in general, then we have the basis for a thriving, consistent and high quality workforce.
The consultation closes on 9 April 2018. If you are a care worker, nurse, occupational therapist, social worker, registered manager or otherwise employed or involved in the care and support sector, please take the time to submit your views.
As care minister, I am already humbled and inspired by the empathy, compassion and dedication you demonstrate every day. We need you now more than ever, and our support for you remains unwavering. Help us make that support as effective, inclusive and rewarding as it can be. Because good care is more than just a job, it’s a vocation.