The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many lessons one of which, is the fantastic professionalism of social care staff. Never again will anybody be able to say social care is a low skilled occupation. Throughout this pandemic the commitment, skills and competencies of the social care workforce have been on display and they have finally been noted by the media and the general public. Now that we have got this increased recognition, we must ensure that it is the platform for a new future, where the social care workforce is recognised, trained and remunerated in a way that reflects their professionalism.
The Chair of the Health Select Committee, Jeremy Hunt, has called for a 10-year workforce strategy in social care, which would mirror the strategy that has been put in place for the NHS. I absolutely agree with all the things that Mr Hunt has said, and the challenge for us all is to turn these commendable statements into a reality.
There is another issue which will have an impact on the social care workforce, and that is Brexit. Now that the UK has left the EU, we will not have access to staff from the European Union in the same way that we used to, so we have now got to make social care careers really attractive for UK nationals.
In order to raise the profile of the sector we need concerted action by Government, but we also need the sector to step up and champion the amazing careers within social care.
Care England is investing a significant amount of money to raise the profile of social care and to show the impact that it has on people’s lives. It is important that we craft a narrative that shows the impact social care has, but also shows the worthwhile and rewarding careers that can be developed within our sector. Social care is one of the few areas where we can offer a career for life, and also offer opportunities to expand and develop careers in a range of different areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic will usher in a different economy and many of the people who were working in retail and hospitality will now find themselves having to think about their next career move. We must make social care one of the destinations that they consider because many of the skills that they have learned from hospitality and retail are easily transferable into social care settings.
In order for the sector to be able to paint a good picture of social care careers, we do need some clear direction from the Government. It is vital we have a 10-year workforce strategy, and this is underpinned by proper resources for training and development. The NHS currently spends about £100,000 per minute on training, and yet none of this money is available to social care. If we are going to make good on the rhetoric of an integrated system, we must have an integrated approach to the recruitment, training and remuneration in both social and health.
Demographic change means that we will increasingly need more people in the social care sector, and we will need people who have the capacity to move across both health and social care, just as citizens do when they require support. We can no longer afford to have two silos in our health and social care system, one of which, the NHS, is well resourced and the other, social care, does not get the money or recognition that it needs and deserves.
There will be many benefits to a proper and strategic approach to social care careers, and what we will see, with the increasing tendency for people to live with long-term conditions, is a need for more social care and the system needs to be attuned to that and ready to respond to this new reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things and we learnt many lessons, one of which, is that we cannot continue to ignore social care. I sincerely hope that if anything good comes out of this pandemic, it is that we see it as a turning point for the way in which the Government and society understand rewards and value social care.