By Peter Seldon, CEO, Consultus Care and Nursing
The impact of the pandemic has reached every industry and each individual in a number of ways. In particular, the social care sector has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, especially with the government’s poor handling of the care home crisis and the shocking number of fatalities. But there have been some positives, namely the fact that it has drawn attention to the value carers have in society, an increasingly important role given the rising need for care workers to care for our ageing population.
With the damage to the hospitality, travel and retail industries, many have had to reconsider their career paths. But how many would consider transitioning to a role in care? Peter Seldon, CEO, Consultus Care and Nursing, highlights how the changing perceptions of care, fuelled by actions and achievements of carers during the pandemic, means that many are now considering a career in the sector as a meaningful, rewarding and long-term option.
Although care working is an essential profession, negative perceptions of care before the Covid-19 pandemic made it seem an undesirable role. Many people were under the impression that working in the sector involves low skilled, passive care which leaves little reward. Currently, there are 1.5 million people working in adult social care in the UK, but by 2035 it’s estimated the UK will need a further 520,000 carers due to the ageing population. It’s therefore essential these misconceptions are corrected to ensure no one is left with unmet needs in later life.
The lack of awareness around a professional career in care leaves care workers feeling undervalued and misunderstood. Indeed, 96% of care workers agreed that they make a real difference in people’s lives and, even more significantly, 97% of clients confirm their carer made a tangible difference to their lives. Over three-quarters of care workers said they were able to develop skills of problem solving, teamwork and medical knowledge alongside countless opportunities to gain qualifications through caring. Some providers are now offering complimentary induction and career transition training alongside individual mentoring, which play a significant part in professionalising the care sector and elevating it as a sought after career for those with the necessary capability and empathy.
When it comes to live-in care versus care homes, families can feel comforted knowing that their loved-ones have the freedom to be independent, keep an active life and if possible, live among friends and neighbours with a compassionate and dedicated carer by their side. Caring is an incredibly rewarding choice of career with numerous benefits. And the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how crucial carers are.
Clap for carers
The lockdown in March 2020 brought about an immediate and unprecedented threat to the older and more vulnerable in society. Caring responsibilities were sprung on those who had never considered caring overnight, whether that be protecting an older relative or vulnerable individual in their family. There was suddenly a mass appreciation for all care workers. The NHS Volunteers Service saw an incredible 750,000 individuals sign up to help the most vulnerable in their community, including volunteering to deliver shopping and prescriptions or just to check in. Society became acutely aware of the need to shield and protect the older generation and recognised just how dependable they are on those more able.
Care workers began to receive the recognition they deserved. Indeed, #ClapForCarers was not just for the NHS. Stories repeatedly surfaced about how care workers in residential homes left their families to isolate with their clients, and domiciliary care workers continued their daily visits to ensure their vulnerable and isolated clients were still being tended to. Furthermore, the heroic efforts of live-in carers who shielded with their clients, 24/7, for months on end, were able to minimise the potential of any coronavirus cross-infection. Cross infection across this sector was close to zero.
It’s therefore no surprise that a poll revealed an astonishing 65% of respondents supported an increase in income tax to fund a pay rise for care workers, highlighting a widespread consensus in society that care workers should be better rewarded. It is clear that this global pandemic has resulted in a dramatic shift in the public’s perception of care workers and the realisation that we desperately need carers to protect our most vulnerable.
The harsh reality
Unfortunately, coronavirus has exposed the vulnerability of care homes. 2020 has seen the highest number of deaths recorded in care homes in 20 years despite the herculean efforts from carers and care home owners. Understandably, care homes had to lockdown in a bid to prevent further deaths but this meant that families were unable to visit their family members. These tighter restrictions on visiting meant that many family members were, devastatingly, not able to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones who were receiving end of life care. As a result, instances have occurred where families have taken measures into their own hands, including 95 year-old Rita Perrott, whose family decided to remove her from a care home and take her back to the family home to be surrounded by her loved ones.
With the second wave of coronavirus upon us, the government has announced a care home support package, backed by a £600 million adult social care infection control fund. But, with the government failures that have already been witnessed, specifically around failing to adequately provide enough PPE and Coronavirus testing for all care workers, there is little confidence left as society copes with the uncertainties that this second wave under lockdown is bringing. Do people really want to send their loved ones into a care home now, given what we now know?
What’s the alternative?
Live-in care can be an ideal alternative to residential or domiciliary care. In addition to the huge increase in care home deaths as a result of coronavirus, residential care can often be lonely and unsettling for those who have been taken out of their home settings, away from family, friends and neighbours.
Indeed, for those with dementia, for example, familiarity is incredibly important and can increase health and well-being. Having a 24/7 live-in carer not only allows the individual to remain in their own home, it also positively changes the dynamic between families by enabling them to spend quality time together rather than only having the capacity to provide essential care. The professional, qualified carer lives in their client’s home 24/7 and provides a subtle yet highly supportive service, keeping routine and paying attention to any potential health issues – enabling the early interventions that are key to reducing the risk of emergency hospital admissions.
Within the next decade, two million people aged 50 or over are projected to be lonely, which increases the risk of a premature death. Live-in care offers the opportunity to work in a rewarding sector and offer companionship and support to those who are in need of it. It also offers the chance for flexibility with the ability to work for a few weeks and have a break. And for many live-in carers, the financial gains of not having any overhead costs while living with their clients is appealing, in addition to being able to earn up to £945 per week. With 1.5 million people unemployed in the UK from June to August 2020, and 673,000 fewer people employed compared with March 2020, there is so much potential within the care sector for those looking for a sustainable career change. It is clear that caring for older and vulnerable individuals has never been more accessible than now.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of carers in society. Previous negative perceptions of care have been scotched by the clear evidence of inspirational work of adult social care workers during coronavirus – the sector is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
With support workers among the happiest people in their jobs, it is one of the most rewarding and affirming professions and it is clear care workers deliver tremendous value to society – especially for those individuals and their families that they provide care for.
Although care homes have had a difficult time during this period, there are alternatives which offer the perfect balance of support and independence and with the need for care within our population set to grow substantially, it is a sector crying out for empathetic and dedicated people. In particular, with the rate of unemployment also set to increase further with the economic fallout from COVID-19, the care sector offers opportunity for a rewarding and highly valued career path.