Although the care sector played a key role during the pandemic and continues to be integral to the post-pandemic recovery, the value of social care still remains largely under-appreciated.
A significant part of the problem has been the negative coverage of the sector amid news of labour shortages and funding crises. This is compounded by a misperception of jobs in care as being unfulfilling or dull, not rewarding in terms of career growth, or not suitable for men.
What also complicates matters is that social care is not a priority for voters – and consequently, not a prominent part of public health – for people until they or someone they know needs to access care. This is despite estimates that nearly 1.5 million adults in England alone may need social care by 2039.
It is clear that the sector needs to cut through the noise and shine a light on the value of social care. This is exactly what Care Home Open Week, which ran from 27th June to 3rd July this year, sought to do.
Around 3,000 care homes across the country opened their doors to prospective residents and their families, potential employees and one in six MPs during this week. They showcased the facilities, activities and services they offer, and encouraged greater community engagement and volunteering.
From intergenerational music therapy and petting zoos to retro tea parties and Grease screenings, the homes welcomed the local public to share the positive and fulfilling experiences they offer for residents and staff alike. These events also demonstrated the diversity of the sector, with not just care homes for the elderly but also homes catering to other adult users, including those with special needs and disabilities, also participating.
Most importantly, participating homes were able to offer a glimpse into day-to-day life for residents, shining a light on the many friendships between residents and those who care for them, and the social and entertainment opportunities homes work hard to create for residents.
They also put a spotlight on the great career opportunities in care. Many homes across the country are pursuing arrangements with local colleges to attract young graduates and school leavers by showcasing the learning and career progression opportunities in the sector. Residents too spoke in depth about how much they cherish their interactions with school children – who visited as part of the organised programmes during the Week – and the young care workers they see every day.
Much work, however, remains to be done to celebrate the value of social care and raise its profile. It is true that the sector needs to address wages and pay progression – but, of course, this also depends on commissioners’ decisions. To effectively raise the parity of esteem for the workforce, however, we must emphasise not just the skills but also the invaluable qualities it takes to succeed in the sector – empathy, compassion and kindness.
The sector must also continue to engage and deepen its connections with local communities by looking for more opportunities to bring schools, youth groups and other local organisations into homes. It is important to forge greater intergenerational connections so that children and young people can see the value of social care and its importance in public health early on.
Lastly, we must strive to put residents and users of social care at the heart of all that we do. Though it may seem obvious, the sector can be more intentional about involving users in key decisions. Involving residents not just as recipients of care but also as participants deciding what care looks like is critical for building a more resilient care sector.