The workforce in England consists of 1.54m people working in over 1.67m different job roles across residential care, support in other forms of purpose built accommodation, home care and community care (including personal assistants) settings according to the latest Skills for Care report. The independent charity also estimated the sector contributed £41.2 billion to the English economy in 2019/20.
Delivering care is a skilled and unique profession, and never has the role of care workers been so important. During the global pandemic, across the world, highly-skilled and knowledgeable social care workforces continued to work tirelessly to ensure those who need care and support received it in some of the most challenging of circumstances.
In the UK, the membership organisation for not-for-profit organisations in the care and support sector, the National Care Forum, brought together over 100 of these stories in its Caring in COVID project. The resulting book, Caring in COVID gives an insight into what it was really like for care staff, residents in care homes, and people needing support in their own homes during lockdown.
These stories clearly demonstrate how people’s lives are enriched by the role of those working in the sector through their creativity, dedication and passion, and through their many skills and talents.
A special kind of person
Providing care and support to people with complex and diverse needs takes a special kind of person.
We live in a diverse society, and people need support for wide variety of reasons, ranging from physical and/or mental health needs and people with learning disabilities and/or autistic people, to people living with dementia and people at the end of their lives.
Carers are trained in many aspects, ranging from first aid and manual handling to managing special behaviours, administrating some medications and providing culturally appropriate care.
Many carers go above and beyond their general training and job description to ensure the person in their care has more than just their physical needs met; they respectfully provide emotional and wellbeing support, and enable as much independence as possible so the person can live the life they choose.
A diminishing workforce
Professional Care Workers week provides a platform for people to share best practice, share their experiences and to have discussions about the future of social care, how to retain and build the workforce, and the rise of technology.
Retention and building the workforce is a priority. While The Kings Fund Social Care 360 report found the vacancy rate in 2019/20 fell to 7.2 per cent from 7.6 per cent and the number of vacancies fell from 122,000 to 112,000, the vacancy rate remains much higher than in 2012/13; back then it was 4.4 per cent, and the vacancy figure for 2019/20, though it had fallen, was the second highest in those eight years.
How standards for carers can help
The global pandemic has demonstrated how vital carers are for people to live a meaningful and fulfilled life. And yet low wages, casual contracts, burn out, and general low morale in the sector are just some of the many reasons carers are looking for alternative jobs.
If the adult social care workforce grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population, then the number of adult social care jobs will increase by 29% (480,000 jobs) to around 2.16 million jobs by 2035 - and it needs a growing, valued and resilient workforce to deliver it.
Given the vast number of vacancies in the sector, there need to be measures in place to not only help support and retain staff, but also to make the sector an attractive career option. This is where standards and harnessing innovative technology to support the workforce can be added to a care provider’s recruitment toolkit.
Standards will recognise staff dedication to upholding and improving quality and safety standards, and at the same time develop further improvement. They have the potential to support in a proactive way, and compliment the widespread appreciation (directed mainly at the NHS) and respect of carers working and managing through this pandemic.
And while technology can enhance care provision, the therapeutic effects of human interaction can never be underestimated.
In Professional Care Workers week, let us also celebrate and recognise the personal qualities that make a good carer: empathy, passion, listening and communicating. While technical skills and knowledge can be learned, human qualities are vital for those that deliver the care, those that need the support and for society as a whole.
Thank you, carers, for all that you do.
If you are interested in partnering with us to develop a set of standards for carers, please contact Nigel Hopkins on 0203 753 5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.