Leaders of care associations in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland met in London last week, for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Members of the Five Nations Care Forum – Homecare Association, Care England, the NCF, Independent Health and Care Providers, Care Forum Wales, Scottish Care and Nursing Homes Ireland – reflected on the invaluable role of the care workforce in making a positive difference to the lives of others, and on their vital contribution to economic growth.
Attendees argued that there is a requirement for all governments to engage with this workforce to ensure they are positioned to focus relentlessly on investing in them.
In Scotland and Wales, care workers have each been given bonuses of £500 or more in recognition of their commitment during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Northern Ireland, there is commitment to do the same.
But whilst these bonuses have been appreciated by care workers, one-off payments of this nature do not solve underlying issues, the Five Nations members agued.
They said increasing pay, terms and conditions of employment for the workforce, so they are on a par with equivalent roles in State-provided health services, is a priority, adding that the pandemic should signal an end to the discrimination applied by governments towards employees in the independent and voluntary sectors who are fulfilling vital roles in caring for older and disabled people at home or in the community.
News of the Scottish government’s announcement on October 5 that wages of care workers in Scotland will rise from £9.50 per hour to £10.02 per hour, equivalent to Band 2 healthcare assistants in the NHS, was warmly welcomed by the Five Nations Care Forum and heralded as a lead other Governments in the UK and Ireland should follow.
Attendees said recommendation by the Low Pay Commission to increase the UK’s national legal minimum wage to £9.42 per hour, which will likely be accepted by government, is another step in the right direction for UK healthcare providers.
But these are far more than minimum wage jobs, the members argued, and we need to go further to attract, retain and develop a talent pool for the future. Irish representatives emphasised the critical requirement to review pay levels in the sector.
Recent analysis by the Health Foundation suggests we need over 600,000 additional care workers in the UK in the next decade to meet needs, on top of the 1.5 million we already have. Over 20,000 healthcare assistants alone will be required to meet demand for services in Ireland in the next ten years.
The forum members said that as a society, we must recognise and fairly reward the enhanced skills and experience required by care workers to support highly dependent older and disabled people with complex health and social needs.
There is urgent requirement to invest in training and upskilling care workers in social care, they argued.
The Five Nations Care Forum calls on the Governments of the UK and Ireland to:
- Fund social care adequately so that care workers are paid fairly for the skilled roles they perform, and at least on a par with equivalent public sector roles.
- Support development of an expert-led workforce strategy for social care and a 10-year workforce plan, aligned with the NHS People Plan in the UK. In Ireland, the Government’s Health Service Capacity Review and ESRI projections emphasise the urgent need for stakeholders to bring together a workforce strategy, with shortages in homecare workers already manifesting across the country. The Government must also publish the terms of reference for the Social Care Workforce Advisory Group announced by Minister Butler at the HCCI conference last week.
- Recognise current national needs and regional variation in demography and workforce and explore placing social care on the Shortage Occupation List.
- Create a professional register for care workers in England, in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Registration of care workers needs to be adequately funded and carefully implemented. In Ireland, regulation of homecare must remain a Government priority and bring better State resourcing for homecare workers.