The government’s recent decision to increase National Insurance to raise funds for the social care sector has divided opinion amongst politicians, the public and even those who work in the social care industry. Yet the fact that the government has made a bold attempt to rectify some of the issues facing the sector is in itself welcome news. However, while providing £500 million to support social care’s existing workforce, this flagship policy doesn’t address fundamental recruitment issues which will require more than cash to alleviate.
A growing elderly population has been a constant and seemingly unstoppable change in the evolving demographics of the UK. This has been driven by effective medicines and ever improving social care which has afforded many elderly people longer, and more enjoyable lives. Delivering this high-quality, person-centred care requires compassionate individuals who are dedicated to caring for others. And, although a vital part of this equation for longevity, the delivery of care continues to bare an unjust reputation. Too many are still ruling themselves out from joining the sector due to an image which fails to portray the value of this important vocation.
The negative effect of this friction is increasingly concerning, particularly as the composition of the UK’s workforce shifts following the vote to leave the European Union. This has resulted in gaps emerging in labour markets which were previously plugged by workers from outside the UK. The social care sector has been one of the most exposed industries to this evolution which, compounded with growing demands, has contributed to a recruitment crisis which all care providers are battling, including Bluebird Care. A simple but challenging task now confronts our industry: encourage significantly more UK residents to embark on a career in care by championing the importance of these roles.
A core part of this effort will require care providers, local and central government, and wider civil society to launch a concerted effort to change perceptions of working in the industry.
Society is in the process of emerging from the worst public health crisis in a century, and with this experience has come an understanding of the importance of the social care sector. Actions to champion the work of key workers have, while overdue, boosted the reputation of Care Assistants among the population. This new awareness of the value Care Assistants provide to vulnerable people must not be lost, but rather capitalised on as we move away from this period. Beyond this, experiences of self-isolation, multiple lockdowns, and social distancing have reaffirmed the importance of social contact and companionship for those who had previously taken this for granted. For those with little experience of the sector, it is not often that ‘companionship’ would be thought of a key job role for Care Assistants, but this is one of the most enriching parts of the job and should be actively showcased to job seekers.
Of course, the responsibilities of Care Assistants encompass more than being a friendly face to their customers, but basic care duties which can be demanding and challenging. In the UK, there exists a collective avoidance of recognising how some of these duties, from supporting personal hygiene to general cleaning, are in fact life-changing to their customers. By conducting these tasks with care and dignity, many millions of people’s lives remain comfortable and meaningful. It is a failure in social attitudes that this truth is not widely praised or commended, and this failure undoubtedly prevents many from exploring a career in care, who may have otherwise been successful.
At Bluebird Care, we believe that an effective way to cut through these challenges is to promote the diverse backgrounds of our Care Assistants and the various journeys they have taken to work in social care. By publicising relatable stories of people who have turned to social care, we believe that others will too consider a role in care. We’re showcasing these stories through our ‘It’s Time To Care’ campaign, which features genuine stories from across our nation-wide offices. This includes people who joined the sector as retired publicans, school leavers, grandparents with time to spare, and many other unique positions. For example, we worked with one Care Assistant to develop a case study on her experience of joining social care after being made redundant from the airline industry. This industry, along with hospitality and retail, have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, but through the skills they have developed in customer service, these team members have settled into rewarding and successful roles at Bluebird Care. Fundamentally, what unites our Care Assistants is a genuine desire to help others, who are attracted by the flexibility of the role, and understand the worthwhile benefits of caring for others.
The debate on how to put the social care sector on a sustainable footing has been ongoing for decades, but without a fitting workforce, these efforts will be greatly limited. Increased funding plays a role in attracting more people to work in care, but what remains is a need to shift society’s attitude to working in social care.