There has been much speculation that we will see social care mentioned in the Queen’s Speech and we will finally, after 24 years of waiting see some progress towards social care reform. Inevitably, much of this debate is focused on the funding of social care but there are many other issues that need to be addressed if we are going to have a system that is fit for purpose in the 21st-century.
One thing that was certain during this dreadful pandemic was the amazing commitment and skills of the social care workforce. We have always known that they are amazing professional people, but the system has never really acknowledged this and certainly has not created a proper career escalator which will see social care staff remunerated and trained in a way that respects their professionalism.
The Chair of the Health Select Committee, Jeremy Hunt, has called for a 10-year workforce strategy and I think this must be a vital component of any social care reform. I am also mindful that there is a constant debate about integration, though this never seems to extend to an integrated approach to workforce skills, competencies training and remuneration. The people who are supported in social care have many complex needs and sometimes the support that is needed is more complex than that which is offered in the NHS, yet the NHS has a really clear workforce strategy and also significant amounts of government money to underpin it. If we are going to move towards true integration, we need to ensure that there is an integrated approach to training and development that will enable people to move seamlessly between health and social care.
What is seldom understood is how incredibly good the career prospects are in social care and in the recent advert the Department of Health and Social Care put out to encourage the recruitment of new staff there was little attention paid to the career progression within social care and I hope the next set of adverts will acknowledge this.
What I would like to see is a very clear workforce strategy that identifies core skills and competencies and career escalators and we are really in need of some clearly portable qualifications so that as people move between different employers, there is a recognition of the training they have received and the level of competency they have achieved.
The Covid-19 pandemic will change the UK economy and many jobs that used to exist before the pandemic will no longer be available. This will be particularly true in areas such as retail and hospitality and many of the skills which that workforce possess are easily transferable into the care sector. If people have the right values and some good interpersonal skills we can certainly train and develop them to have long-standing careers in social care. Social care is one of the few areas where we can justifiably say that you will have a career for life if you want one. Demographic change and advances in medical science have meant there are more people who need long-term care, and this will mean that there is always a need for social care staff.
I sincerely hope that when we see the details of the social care reform package, there is a clear commitment to a workforce strategy that will acknowledge the skills and professionalism of our dedicated workforce and never again will we see social care staff being treated as if they are doing a job because in truth, they are involved in a very skilled professional role.
Some years ago, there was talk of social care staff being registered, and I am a supporter of this initiative. However, it has to be a real approach to registration, not just a tick in the box. I believe that all the issues around training and competency frameworks, portable qualifications, and above all, salary levels have got to be sorted out before we get to registration. Registration will make social care staff in the same category as some of the Allied professions to medicine and nursing, and if we are going to be in that category and have that accountability trail, we should also have the requisite level of pay.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will see social care reform and finally, after over 24 years of prevarication by five different prime minister’s, it will be this one that gives social care its 1948 moment and puts it on the road to being an integral part of our national infrastructure.