Jonathan Freeman MBE, CEO, CareTech Foundation
We are all part of a family and community structure that is evolving and changing. The social care sector has got to adapt and reflect these changes if it is to provide the service to our communities and our society have a right to expect.
The rate at which the UK population is aging means that in 25 years’ time some 2.6 million people will be over 85 years old! All signs indicate that the number of people that will need a carer will also increase; estimates suggest that two out of three of us will have to care for someone in our family at some point in our lives. Caring for a relative is a responsibility most of us will happily accept; but if you are unable to provide this care within your family, you will need to rely on external support in your home or in a care home.
Statistical evidence shows all too clearly that there is a huge recruitment crisis in the social care sector across the UK, with up to 163,000 vacancies in any given month. So, just where will the UK find its next generation of carer professionals? Many providers, thanks to Government changes, are now recruiting extensively from overseas. And that is absolutely fine by me, reflecting the UK’s history of welcoming the positive contribution of those from different cultures and traditions. But, a big part of the solution is also closer to home because the vast majority of these care professionals are already here in the UK if only we opened our eyes a little wider!
The CareTech Foundation recently launched a partnership with Breaking Barriers, a charity that exists so that every refugee can access meaningful employment and build a new life. The specialist charity supports refugees into employment with advice, experience and education.
Our partnership aims to reduce the high unemployment rates among refugees and help to decrease the vacancy rates in the health and social care sector. It also aims to develop a bespoke career pathway for refugees to work in the social care sector. Breaking Barriers’ clients have expressed an interest in working in social care; indeed, social care is one of the top career choices of refugees supported by Breaking Barriers. The charity will play an instrumental role in bringing in a new type of carer.
Refugees come from a diverse range of backgrounds and speak a range of languages. This means they can enhance the diversity of caring teams, both in terms of demographic but also the skills and experience they bring. For example, Breaking Barriers clients are aged between 18–68 and come from 60+ different countries.
Refugees have also often experienced extensive periods of instability so are more likely to seek secure and long-term employment, something that might help to improve staff retention rates in the social care sector.
One of Breaking Barriers’ clients, an asylum-seeker who worked in an elderly care home for five years in Russia, said: “This is a much-needed job with a lot of responsibility, as there are a lot of elderly and disabled people in need of care. Social protection in my country is not as developed as in the UK. Therefore, I think this is a promising job, with potential for career growth. To be a good carer you need empathy, being considerate, always being friendly, keeping nursing home residents’ information confidential and maintaining the dignity of nursing home residents.”
Organisations should aim to adapt their recruitment process to develop clear pathways for refugees. Through the Foundation, Breaking Barriers and the CareTech Group have been working to develop a bespoke pathway into social care sector employment. This process develops existing channels to remove barriers which may place clients at a disadvantage. The responsibility taken on by both organisations shows their appetite to ensure that recruitment pathways for refugees interested in care sector employment remain fair, appropriate and values-based.
It is clear that attracting refugees is a huge opportunity for the social care sector. It is well-documented that people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to stay in a position where they feel valued.
If we are to tackle the staffing crisis in the social care sector, the sector needs to appreciate that part of the potential solution to this problem is right in front of us! A proportion of the next generation of carers could be found from the refugee population. We have a crisis, we need to solve it and this could be part of the solution. And in doing so, we can provide fantastic careers to those who so deserve the opportunity to re-build their lives. Let’s not waste any more time! We need more care sector organisations to step up and provide bespoke pathways for refugees – so, let’s all work together to try to help solve this problem once and for all!