Home care workers were praised by MPs during a debate in Parliament last week.
Carers were recognised as “heroes” and thanked for their “skill, dedication and sacrifice” as MPs from across the political divide called for parity of esteem between NHS and social care workers, and full recognition and reward for the health and care workforce.
Paul Bristow, conservative MP for Peterborough, said he could “never say thank you enough” for the domiciliary care workers who cared for his father and “gave him back his dignity”.
He said that too often we hear “bad stories” about domiciliary care workers “being tutted” for wearing their uniforms in public and that there is a lack of understanding among people who think care work is “low skilled work”.
“They don’t understand that in working in domiciliary care you’re administering medicines and doing other complex tasks. You need to be a real people person to be a domiciliary care worker and these people are often hidden heroes in our own communities,” he said.
Rounding up his contribution to the debate, Bristow asked whether local authorities paying for time and task was “the right thing to do” of if they should be focusing on the outcomes of service users.
Over 43,000 people signed a petition calling for social care to be given equal recognition to the NHS and health system, resulting in the petition being debated in House of Commons on Thursday.
Another petition, titled ‘Increase pay for NHS healthcare workers and recognise their work’, received more than 160,000 signatures and was also discussed in Parliament.
Opening the debate, Catherine McKinnell, chair of the Petitions Committee and Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North said: “It is absolutely right that every week for 10 weeks, we came together especially, as a country, on a Thursday evening at 8 o’clock to recognise and clap for our carers. It was incredibly moving every time.
“Yet, as so many people have contacted me to say, those same people have been saving lives and caring for us day after day, long before this horrendous virus presented itself. It is absolutely right that we should clap and thank them for their extraordinary service during this period, but we must also recognise that a clap and a thank you is not enough. It was not enough before this pandemic, and it certainly is not enough now.”
Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow agreed, adding that now is the time to build a system that rewards care workers with “more than applause”.
Responding to MPs, the Minister of Care, Helen Whately said she “passionately believes” that social care is “absolutely equally important to the NHS”.
“I know my colleagues in government agree and, as we heard in this debate that is the sentiment of many honourable members, and we rightly now talk about health and social care workers in the same breath,” she said.
“In the months ahead, as we pledged in our manifesto, we will be looking at how we can build a long-term solution for social care, so that in the long term care workers get the rewards they deserve, and in particular, so that everyone can have the dignity and security that they deserve.”
The Minister added that social care staff have played “an incredible role during the pandemic”.
“I’m always blown away by the compassion show by our care workers who look after our most vulnerable. Honourable members will be aware that the government does not set the pay for social care workers in England. However, we are committed to raising the profile of our social care workforce in giving them the support they need.”
Winding up the debate, McKinnell said she was “disappointed” with the Minster’s response, explaining that it “doesn’t fully acknowledge” the question that has been put by the petitioners that health and social care workers do not yet have full recognition and reward in the way that they would like to see.
But she added that she hoped the debate is the beginning of a conversation as to “how we can arrive at that point”.
“I’m sure that honourable members will support that conversation continuing and action to follow,” she added.
“But above all, I want to put on record once again our gratitude, from this House and from the Petitions Committee, for the service that every health and social care worker has made to this country in the weeks that have passed and will continue to make in the weeks ahead.”
Commenting on the debate, Dr Jane Townson, CEO of the United Kingdom Homecare Association Tweeted: “Great to see MPs talking about homecare in Parliament – another step forward. Will be even better to see positive action – more funding for councils, so they stop purchase of care by the minute and start trusting care workers and enabling fair reward and recognition of their skill.”
Giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee last week, Townson said she would scrap the commissioning of social care services by local authorities if she were in charge of the country, adding that the payment of home care workers by the minute must be stopped.