As we gingerly pick our way through 2022, I have taken much-needed time to pause and reflect on the lessons, successes, and sacrifices of recent years.
Just a few weeks ago, we came together in remembrance of the brave and compassionate social care workers who tragically lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic. This day of reflection reminded us of their unerring selflessness, and of the crucial role they play in our community.
In social work and social care particularly, we also remember the impact on unpaid carers, older and disabled people, poorer and BAME communities, people with increased mental ill health, rough sleepers; and many others – not least the increasing numbers of people waiting for assessments, care and support reviews, despite increases in the care at home delivered.
Indeed, in the past few years, society has been relearning the true value of our social care workforce, and that care is an essential part of life. We have faced hurdles that we wouldn’t have imagined few years ago. Who could have predicted the life altering events we confronted in only three years? Brexit, then COVID-19, the fallout from a bloody and devastating war and its effects on refugees and society. The implications are felt daily when trying to deliver the quality care we all deserve.
Yet beyond navigating these significant challenges, we must also contend with what is, for me, most daunting: what will come next?
Not knowing what the future holds, for us as a community, for social care, our country, and the world, undoubtably keeps me awake at night more than anything else. Recent events have thrown into stark focus just how fragile and unpredictable our world is.
But while the unknown remains daunting, what the past years taught me is the resilience of everyone who cares.
Against all odds and expectations, and notwithstanding the seemingly endless crisis of recruitment and retention, exhaustion and overwhelming circumstances, our colleagues have shown their determination to go above and beyond to deliver care, supports and safeguards, underpinned by compassion and professionalism. I have been astounded by their ingenuity and tenacity time and time again.
I know this will be true no matter what lies on our horizon. There is very little we can safely rely on today, but one thing we must celebrate, without taking for granted: the commitment of everyone working in care, paid and unpaid, who persist through hardship and profound sorrow.
On reflection, I appreciate that these challenges have pushed us towards embracing a truly innovative and flexible mindset. Amid the struggle, creativity has flourished, and we’ve carved new pathways, forging smarter methods to deliver care. We’ve opened conversations, asking tough questions, and giving clear answers on what is important to us, and what is redundant, when we think about high-quality care and the future of our workforce.
I welcome many of these changes, including improved relationships between providers and local authorities.
The pandemic has made the case for adult social care’s importance. The pandemic has shown how vital investment is for social care, for our workforce to thrive professionally and to facilitate the care we need to live the lives we want.
As we hope for less turbulent times, it’s critical we do not forget what the past teaches us. We must always be looking for change that gets the best out of everybody: our instinct for innovation and flexibility must not be lost.
That understanding, and the knowledge of what people in social care have done throughout it all, comforts me and eventually lulls me back to sleep on even the most anxious nights.