Plans for a National Care Service are more than a decade old, but little have come out of them. Meanwhile, demand for adult social care is growing, it is not being matched by nearly enough workers in the sector. Matthew Ball, writes in a personal capacity, setting out how to ensure that social care becomes the respected and desirable profession it ought to be.
Last week, I was encouraged to see the Fabian Society coming up with some sensible policy proposals on social care reform in England for a prospective Labour government. As Support Guaranteed: The Roadmap to a National Care Service states, plans for a National Care Service were first presented 13 years ago in the dying days of the last Labour government but since then no detailed work has taken place to flesh out what the service might look like, or how it should be implemented. The need for a National Care Service is clearly more urgent than ever. Latest figures (2021/22) show that the adult social care sector in England needs to fill around 165,000 job vacancies on any given day, according to Skills for Care. With a rapidly ageing and vulnerable population post-pandemic, these vacancies are only set to increase further in the years to come.
For those who saw it last year, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls produced an excellent lived experience BBC documentary, working as a care worker (inside and outside a social care home). One of the points he quite rightly raised during the course of that series was that being a carer should be viewed as a career. To achieve that, we need to make sure social care becomes the respected profession it deserves to be.
But how do we to get there? Back in December 2019 (before the pandemic) Lucy Mitchell, a former NHS occupational therapist, wrote an article for The Medium. During the course of that article, Lucy talked about the need for a “Royal College of Care Workers”. Writing as someone who works for a professional body, I very much concur with Lucy’s words when she states that, “creating a Royal College of Care workers would provide a platform for care workers to engage with other health professional peers, receiving the same respect and benefits, and an opportunity to engage with the community within which care is inextricably entrenched.”
That said, there are some important omissions from Lucy’s article. First, with appropriate support, I believe that care workers should be required to undergo some sort of formalised professional qualifications and Continuing Professional Development in return for membership of the Royal College of Care Workers. This will, in my opinion, benefit them both personally and professionally. Second, although Lucy doesn’t address the issue of pay levels for care workers, this idea of a Royal College will have limited appeal to those undertaking care work at the moment, unless the pay issue is addressed alongside its formation. In short, how do we make care work an attractive profession to not only retain those people working in it already, but to entice others to join the profession? So, I’m pleased to see the Fabian Society’s report calling for higher wages for care workers. Alongside this care workers need to be provided with the same statutory rights and conditions that other NHS workers currently get. By addressing these issues, it will not only help to retain current staff but there will be an opportunity to potentially attract thousands of new recruits, who could be retrained and reskilled, to become care workers.
When it comes to building a social care profession, I fear the Fabian report missed an opportunity. The Fabian plan talks about expanding regulatory requirements for training and skills and introducing professional registration for the adult social care workforce on a voluntary or a compulsory basis, but that will only take things so far and does not help to build a sense of being part of a “care profession” with the support of a community of like-minded professionals.
The time has come, therefore, for a Royal College of Care Workers or maybe for a new Chartered Professional Body for Care Workers, to be independently owned and led by care workers themselves. To get there will require support from similar bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Physicians, and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, plus others potentially too, who can provide expert advice and counsel based on the experiences gained from their own Royal Colleges. Only then will we get a social care profession, which provides its members with the career opportunities and support they deserve.