There can’t be a person in the country who – as we struggle through the Covid crisis – doesn’t now look at people working in the social care sector in a different light.
This previously unsung army of workers have gained our respect and admiration – even going for far as calling them heroes and putting them on an equal footing to NHS staff.
It’s a new-found reputation that has to stick.
But this should not just be so that individuals in this huge workforce can start to feel proud of themselves.
Instead, we should be positioning the social care sector to be engine room to support the nation’s post-Covid economic recovery.
Consider this – we have swathes of people in retail, hospitality and travel who have lost or could be set to lose their jobs. Sadly, more women than men are going to lose their jobs.
Contrast that with the social care sector: it’s been estimated that the care workforce in England must grow by 2.2% per year to keep up with the ageing population. However, with 150,000 vacancies and growth at just 1.2%, care provision has reached crisis point.
The Care Quality Commission acknowledges that “health and social care have seen demand for services rising, combined with greater complexity of people’s needs. Staffing shortages can further increase the strain on the workforce”.
Care providers throughout the UK face notorious challenges with staff retention, with turnover rates as high as 44% versus 15% in other sectors, resulting in significant backlogs to care provision. Care UK estimates over 1.4 million people currently have unmet care needs, with delayed discharges due to the lack of social care costing the NHS more than £500 every minute.
Even the highest performing Local Authorities struggle to plan to meet the UK’s needs when the care sector is impacted by instability, inconsistency and interruption.
Faced with this challenge, it calls for a sensible, joined-up strategy that has the potential for two outstanding results: we find work – and work that is now highly valued – for the thousands of people made jobless; and we ramp up staffing levels to ensure we provide the care for those people most in need; those people who have suffered most from Covid and for whom change needs to happen if we are to learn any lessons from the pandemic.
Of course, it can’t happen overnight and different parts of the country will make change a different speeds.
But by adopting – as other sectors have done – new technology to better track, plot and plan workforce data, these changes can happen. It is vital to put technology at the heart of this planned transformation.
People – from our politicians down – now see social care, and the need to care for our most vulnerable individuals, differently.
That should lead to two key developments over the coming year – more funding in social care and better wages for social care staff. In England, an extra £120m of government funding has already been announced to help local authorities boost depleted staff levels.
Enhancing social care as an exciting, rewarding and now well-remunerated career choice should act as a trigger to encourage people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, to take up these new roles in social care.
So when the UK opens up post-Covid, social care can be that key sector to support the economic recovery of the nation.
It is pleasing to see the recent independent review calling for a National Care Service in Scotland state that the additional expenditure required should not be seen as a revenue cost but rather as an investment that encourages job creation and provides economic stimulus.
It reported too that: For every £1 spent on social care, more than £2 is generated in other sectors. Its estimated that an increase in social care expenditure of 1% of GDP would create three times as many jobs in the UK economy than it would if spent in the construction industry; and the sums recouped by the Treasury through taxes and NI would be 50% higher.
So, as we look to our pathway out of Covid, let’s seize the opportunity to make dynamic change that can transform our care for our most needy citizens.
Stephen Wilson, CEO Netli, a leading innovator in the UK’s health and social care sector.
Photo Credit – Centre for Ageing Better