A focus on co-producing care is vital to improving the quality of care accessed by those who draw on social care services across all parts of the sector. The National Co-production Critical Friends Group, quoted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), define co-production as: “a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognising that both have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.” However, whilst SCIE note that for transformative co-production to take place, social care workers, alongside those who access services, must be valued as assets. Sadly, we know that all too often this is not the case.
Social care work is a vocation centred around relationships; knowing and understanding those who you are supporting, giving them time, and making a difference to their lives. This is something that is often overlooked, and moreover, perceived to be ‘a soft skill’ – contributing to the perception, and indeed, Government categorisation, of social care workers as ‘low skilled’. Outside of the sector it is not generally recognised that care workers play a vital role in the lives of those who draw on social care services, as well as positively impacting our economy and society more broadly. Directly providing care gives the care worker a unique and comprehensive insight into the personal histories, fears and anxieties, preferences and belief systems of the people they support. Despite this, social care workers are still not widely included in conversations and practice around the co-production of care. Indeed, the SCIE states that “Frontline staff are seen [by the organisation] as a group that needs to have more independence and a greater role in planning services” (2015) – in other words, that care workers must be treated as the professionals they are, as is the case with doctors, nurses and social workers, and fully involved in the care planning process.
With such recognition of professionalisation, must come fair wages that match the significant, and increasing, responsibilities that come with working in social care. Furthermore, we fully agree with the SCIE’s suggestion that organisations must ensure that “frontline staff have everything they need to work [and be involved in] using co-production approaches, including time, resources and flexibility” (2015). A move towards co-production in the sector then, could represent a great opportunity to improve conditions and working conditions for the social care workforce – as well as significantly improving care quality for all those who access the sectors services.