Opinion

The future of the workforce is in the government’s hands

Karolina Gerlich, Executive Director, The Care Workers Charity

The December election produced the Conservative government a strong majority. For social care, this means that changes can be decided on swiftly and implemented with the urgency warranted by the current state of affairs.

As rewarding as care work is, it is also extremely demanding and requires an enormous range of skills. This needs to be recognised in the country’s immigration policy; care workers should be classed as key workers and given visa exemptions. With the average care worker earning under £20k a year, it is essential that income restrictions are not imposed on future care workers immigrating to the UK. After all, the salary of a care worker does not fairly reflect the immense value they add to society.

Immigration policy must reflect the importance of care work, and the high level of skill necessary to deliver the high-quality care we aim for. With a huge shortage of staff already, it is essential that we remain open and welcoming to talent.

It has been a long time coming that the social care workforce is recognised in legislation. Professionalisation of care staff has been on the agenda of previous governments – now is the time for England to catch up with Northern Island, Scotland, and Wales in terms of care worker registration. The law must recognise that that the job itself is highly skilled and better protect people who use care services..

Registration of care workers in England and a robust, flexible, and ambitious training framework will improve the general quality of care; they will also give care workers respect and recognition befitting their hard work and personal sacrifices.

The government is facing the huge challenge of addressing decades of neglect. Speed and decisiveness are needed, followed by substantial increases in funding to a level that would make the sector sustainable. Care workers are worth the investment, considering the value of the work they do: economically, and in the health and well-being of society.

Many care workers come to NACAS expressing worry about the daily challenges they face and the lack of training to cope. Currently, legal requirements for social care training in England do not reflect the complexity of the role.

The attitude that social care is a ‘bottomless pit where money goes to die’ does not have a place in 2020. In the same way that care workers should be seen as no less important than nurses and doctors, social care should no longer be treated as an afterthought to the NHS. A well thought out and long-term workforce strategy, in the Social Care People’s Plan, is what we need from the government this year.

There is a lot of great practice in parts of the UK, in European countries, and around the world. Now is the time to take the  results of years of research and implement it on a national level.

The future of a sustainable care workforce lies in government-level understanding of what social care is. We support and enhance people’s well-being, and share some of their best and most difficult times; we work in caring relationships, sometimes lasting many years, including nights, weekends, and even Christmas. As such, it is unacceptable to fund and regard social care as merely a task-based service.

 

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