The Economic Affairs Committee hosted a private meeting with care workers on 8 January to discuss the social care workforce. Five members of the Committee were in attendance, as was Richard Humphries, Specialist Adviser to the Committee. The session was attended by three representatives from The Orders of St John Care Trust, two who directly work in a care home in Oxfordshire and one Area Operations Manager.
This note summarises the discussion.
Participants raised recruitment as a challenge for care homes. One participant described a constant fluctuating increase in resident needs. For example, in any one week the dependency needs could be met with a certain number of employees however, as soon as one resident’s needs change, and this may be to double-handed care, then the staffing level becomes stretched. The problem being this is unpredictable and difficult at times to manage. Most or all of these staff could be required to help with one complex need.
Competition for staff was high both with other care home providers and organisations outside the care sector such as supermarkets. The recruitment process for care homes was lengthier than for competitors outside of the sector, sometimes taking up to three months due to requirements like Disclosure and Barring Service checks. In general, participants felt prospective care workers chose employers primarily on the basis of pay rates.
On the suggestion of a national recruitment campaign, participants were sceptical. One said: “If we sold the truth, although it would be attractive on some days, on others I’m not sure it would be that attractive because of the demands, responsibility and pressures of the role.”
Participants spoke of the importance of exposing men to the care sector to dispel myths about its working conditions. Men were represented in the sector mainly in roles viewed as more professional. Participants noted that amongst different community engagement they held sessions with nursery-age children, and volunteering programmes, that had been relatively successful for recruiting and attracting employees of varying ages.
Turnover constituted not only of people leaving the sector, but also carers moving to care homes that could offer better rates. The participants’ care home often lost staff to other facilities with a higher proportion of self-funders who could consequently offer a much higher rate of pay. While the participants’ care home, which relied primarily on local authority funding, paid between £8 and £10 per hour, those with more self-funders could afford to pay between £15 and £17 per hour. Care workers would also leave the social care sector to work at supermarkets offering higher pay rates, particularly in urban areas. These roles carry much less responsibility also.
Participants agreed that pay was an important factor in turnover in the social care workforce, but not the only reason. In particular, they argued that many left, or did not join, because they felt undervalued by society. As a result, there needed to be a shift in society’s view of care workers. Care work was a skilled profession, which should be recognised as such. One participant said: “It is not all about money … care work is a profession and needs to be seen as such. Nurses are highly respected, highly regarded … we need to be on the same platform but are seen as second-class citizens.” Another participant noted that they had too often heard people describe themselves or others as “just a carer”.
Some care workers, particularly in rural areas, lived long distances away from their care home. One participant spoke of a care worker who would take three trains to get to work, leaving home at half 4 in the morning and working 15- or 16-hour days as a result. This contributed to care workers “burning out” and leaving the sector.
One participant described two types of people who applied to work in care homes. One type was looking for short-term work to fill a gap in their career or pay the bills, often attracted by adverts of ‘no experience necessary and training provided’. The participant said: “It is not a vocation for them, it just fits their lifestyle. Something is missing … it is not seen as an attractive role anymore.”
The other type saw care work as a vocation, remaining in the sector for decades. There were rarely, it was suggested, people who did not fit either category.
Participants explained that the Care certificate was a nationally approved induction programme. They noted, however, that there was no external validation of the certificate. This meant that, while the participants’ care homes used the certificate to design its own induction programme, it could not be sure that care workers who had achieved the certificate elsewhere had been adequately trained. They would therefore make them repeat the induction programme, and some employees would note differences between the difficulty of achieving the certificate at their current care home compared to other homes outside of the organisation. One participant concluded: “Do we think the transferable Care Certificate is valuable overall? Not really, because of the lack of external validation, however the standards have enabled us to create a robust Induction for all of our employees, sadly this is not the same for all providers.
Participants also discussed National Vocation Qualifications (NVQs). These were externally validated and required for progression to senior roles in the participants’ care homes. The home would support employees in obtaining NVQs, using funding from a variety of partners including local authorities, colleges, and Skills for Care. This funding was sometimes unreliable.
NVQs were not seen as a solution to need to view social care as a profession on its own. One participant said: “NVQs are sometimes seen as ‘something I’ve got to do’ to a care worker, rather than career development.
Participants discussed the likely consequences of local authorities funding care more widely. In this circumstance, one participant suggested that only a minority of families would continue to care for their relatives instead of using the state-funded care. Another participant suggested that greater access to domiciliary care and/or Extra Care Housing could help family members sustain caring for their relatives in their own homes for longer.