By Stephen Evans
This article was written by Learning and Work Institute’s Chief Executive Stephen Evans to be included in Campaign for Learning’s pamphlet, Reforming Adult Social Care – Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England. The full pamphlet, which contains contributions from 16 other authors. is available here.
Anyone who thinks social care is an unskilled job should try working in the sector for even a day. They are skilled, hard, crucial jobs that we’ve too long undervalued as a society. In addition, millions of people provide unpaid care for friends and relatives.
Governments have been promising a solution for social care for decades. Demand is rising as our population ages, but we don’t invest enough. This leaves people worried about what care they’ll get and homeowners worried they’ll have to sell their homes. It also means a sector characterised by high staff turnover and vacancy rates and low pay.
But there’s a short-term crunch too. Like many sectors, many social care employers are struggling to recruit, leaving vacancy rates high. There’s limited scope to raise wages when there’s a relatively fixed amount of investment from the Government. And the change in migration rules post-Brexit, as well as falling net migration in the pandemic, place limits on labour sources that have filled many roles in recent decades at least. How do we tackle this short-term crunch and long-term challenge?
We also need to think about how care is structured too, so that investment in the workforce delivers the high-quality care people deserve. Whether this is a kind of National Care Service to mirror the National Health Service or some other approach, the key point is to think about how care is commissioned, what people’s entitlements to different types of care are, and the workforce requirements (number of workers, skill levels, training, and terms and conditions) for high quality care. All of these are pre-requisites for encouraging recruitment into social care and supporting training and progression. But there’s more we need to do too.
The long-term workforce challenge won’t be solved until we reach a better solution overall for social care. If we want care workers to be paid the Living Wage (for the benefit of workers and to boost recruitment), then we’ll need to invest more overall. The Government’s current plans take a step forward, but don’t go far enough.
We need a joined-up and long-term view of workforce needs. How many people will we need, in which social care roles, in which parts of the country? What skills will they need? How might this change in the decades ahead? Will there be a workforce shortage as a result of the alternative career options people have, natural workforce change as people retire, and changes in migration? You can’t accurately predict or centrally plan these things, but you can have a clear overall picture and strategy.
We then need multiple routes into jobs in social care. There are 3.2 million people out-of-work who want a job, and even in the spring 2020 lockdown some 1.2 million people started a new job. Not everyone will be suitable for, or want, a job in social care. But many may and we need to find ways to raise the possibilities with them, spark interest, and provide clear pathways into the sector. To widen the number of people considering social care careers, we definitely need to raise awareness of the career options. We need to also focus on practical action locally: social care employers, colleges, training providers and Jobcentre Plus working together.
Some people will be interested in moving into social care, but need support to gain the skills needed. That means thinking further about how to work with employers to design the training people need. Could we build on successful models from other sectors like WorkAdvance in the US, as well as emerging models like the (unproven) boot camps and (proven) sector-based work academies. It also means looking at how we can boost apprenticeships so they provide a quality route into working in social care and progressing on.
For all of these routes, we also need to think about maintenance or other financial support for people looking to switch into social care from other careers. That’s a broader need we have to think about in the context of longer working lives and rapidly changing economy – our skills funding isn’t set up for this new reality.
The search for a long-term solution for social care is an ongoing and long-running one. But the imperative for everyone to work together to tackle the workforce crunch is real. We need policy change, but there’s also practical action that can make a real difference.
The government needs to develop a long-term workforce plan for adult social care covering pay, employment terms and conditions, skills needs and how recruitment will be met now
and in the future.
The government must work with stakeholders in the adult social care sector and post-16 education, skills and employability sectors to ensure social care is a positive career choice
with greater investment to ensure fair pay and conditions, training, and opportunities for development.
The government needs to develop innovative new ways for people to switch to social care roles and progress within them, drawing on best practice around the world.
This article was written for and first published in Campaign for Learning’s pamphlet on Reforming Adult Social Care. The full publication which includes 16 other essays is available here.