We need to offer better pay, higher quality training and career progression to draw people into the care sector, writes Gillian Keegan MP
We are all living longer, which is something to celebrate – but it means more and more of us need care and for longer. We are seeing a rise in complex conditions like dementia, which only compounds the pressures on social care services. Both my grandmothers were in care with dementia, one in a residential care home and the other was looked after in her own home by her (exceptionally large) family and community carers. This area is so important to me as my own experiences have shown how good care is a lifeline for those who need it and their families.
It is well recognised across all parties that we need to get to grips with this issue. The current system is inefficient and is having a knock-on effect on other services. Most obviously, in our hospitals where acute beds are being occupied by people who could be, and would much rather be, cared for in their own homes.
Louise Haigh MP and I decided to set up the APPG for Social Care to see if we could offer some solutions and put a spotlight on the concern’s providers, carers and most importantly patients. It became evident that one of the most immediate and pressing issues to tackle was workforce. On any given day there are 110,000 vacancies in the social care sector, which is less surprising when you learn there is a staff turnover exceeding 30 per cent across the sector.
This is systemic and our recent inquiry identified a multitude of reasons that need to be addressed. Most obvious is low pay, with travel time commonly unpaid, and sleep in shifts with extremely low rates of pay; as low as £50 for 24 hours care work. Care workers regularly provide life-saving care for people with complex, diverse personal and medical needs but are paid less – and crucially offered less training and career development – than someone beginning work as a retail assistant in a supermarket.
Although investment is needed, just throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. We must create opportunity for progression, making social care a valued career path rather than just a job.
We need to offer higher quality training and career progression to draw people into the care sector and give them the skills they need to care for people at their most vulnerable. It makes sense that there should be a basic qualification level to ensure a good standard of care for everyone who needs it. From that we need to explore various routes to advance care skills, which could act as a natural pipeline into nursing.
It’s time to value, respect and elevate those who work so hard to provide much needed care. Our recently published report puts forward some suggestions as to how we can professionalise social care and better recognise its value. I hope that our APPG builds in numbers so we can send a common message of the need to reform. At the end of the day, we all want to be cared for with dignity in our old age and for many of us we will need to rely on this service in the not too distant future.
Gillian Keegan is Conservative MP for Chichester