Interview: Employment Minister, Mims Davies, on encouraging jobseekers into social care

Absence rates in adult social care have more than doubled in recent months as the impact of the new Covid-19 variant is being felt across the country.

Jobseekers, volunteers and people on furlough are being invited to register their interest in short-term opportunities in the adult social care sector, including personal care, providing wellbeing support, collecting and delivering supplies or helping out with the cooking and cleaning.

socialcare.today spoke with Employment Minister, Mims Davies, about the steps the government is taking to encourage jobseekers to join the social care sector.

What are you doing to get jobseekers into adult social care?

What are we not doing! It’s a big focus for us and we’re determined to make it an attractive profession for all kinds of people. We are really excited about the variety and breadth of opportunities available to jobseekers. There are many entry-level roles that offer on-the-job training to help jobseekers develop their skills and confidence while they work.

We’re also working to make the sector more accessible to those who are looking switch to a career in care. I recently attended one of the sector-based work academy programme (SWAP) meetings that we have been doing up and down the country. I spoke to people who are looking to change careers, people who have been unpaid carers and former carers who are looking to get back into the sector. Encouraging different kinds of people to work in the sector will allow us to help those receiving care in lots of different ways.

Three-quarters of those working in social care earn less than the real living wage. While a quarter are employed on zero-hour contracts. How can you expect people to work for, what social care workers say is, ‘poverty pay’?

The pandemic has highlighted the important role care workers play in our society and we thank them for everything they do. I recognise that this is hard work and not as well paid as we’d like, that is why Universal Credit is really useful to both jobseekers and people in-work.

If you get into care you might not be earning a lot to begin with, but you can quickly become senior in the sector and progress really quickly.

Around 307,000 of our care workers are on zero-hour contracts and most people report that the contract is convenient for them because they can work around other commitments, such as studying.

Social care workers are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as health care workers. How are you making the sector safer?

I have weekly meetings with my local NHS representative and have been scrutinising how the vaccine rollout has protected care staff and placed them at the heart of the scheme by putting them in the highest priority group. They have also been issued with PPE and we’re providing free PPE to unpaid carers.

The health and social care reform White Paper outlines plans to bring health and care back together. We have the opportunity to utilise everything we learned all the way through the pandemic, including how to support people working in adult social care and the kind of additional funding needed.

We have all realised what an integral role care workers play in our community, now we need to figure out how we can make adult social care an attractive sector to work in.

Will the roles still be available when the pandemic is over?

Care, along with construction and agriculture, is one of the sectors where there is a real need for people long-term. They are part of the 500,000 vacancies we need to fill, which is why it is important that we are matching people with the right roles.

The need to make the sector an attractive occupation in the long term is something that has come to the forefront recently. Our work coaches work really hard to help claimants figure out what is right for them and to equip them with the right experience and skills. Through the different programmes we offer, claimants really get to experience what that role is like and whether it is right for them.

Will claimants be penalised if they’re offered a role in adult social care that they don’t feel comfortable taking?

There is a level of conditionality around benefits. If you are consistently turning down roles that you are suitable for that is a different story.

Claimants work closely with our work coaches to find the right role but it’s not always going to be a perfect match. I recognise that not everyone is suited to care, but there are many other opportunities in the sector beyond providing personal care. There are office and admin jobs as well as maintenance roles.

Safeguarding is of utmost importance so, absolutely, it’s about making sure that those with the right skills and interests are matched with the right role.

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