Karolina Gerlich, a home care worker and founding director of the National Association for Care & Support Workers, a not-for-profit company campaigning for greater recognition and respect for care workers, explains why the campaign is “sugar-coating” the realities of social care work.
For the past couple of days, I have been asked many times for my opinion on the current Department of Health and Social Care recruitment campaign – and I explained that I need to know more about how care workers are responding to it.
The idea of a campaign that brings more people to a critically short-staffed industry is always welcomed, and something that the National Association of Care & Support Workers would want to support. We also are happy to support any campaign that promotes care as a rewarding job, and that recognises the real difference the profession makes to peoples’ lives.
At NACAS, we continuously campaign for the increased representation and reputation of care work – with a skilled workforce that is contributing enormously to social care and wider society, like in our #ProfessionalCareWorkersDay celebrations and campaign. The hashtag #Everydayisdifferent is a great banner under which to show the variety of tasks, skills, people, and jobs that social care involves. People working in social care often speak of their work not as ‘a job’ or a ‘lifestyle’, and make many personal sacrifices to remain in jobs that bring people happiness.
What we also know at NACAS is that people have to come to the industry with realistic expectations of the job. It is a job that is extremely rewarding and fulfilling, but that is also often back-breaking; poorly paid; mentally, emotionally and physically draining; and undertrained. It is a job in a sector that is desperate for more funding at every level of care provision, as well as better training standards, pay and working conditions, which would show appreciation of the difficulty of the job.
Recruitment is only one of the problems that the sector faces. Social care is an extremely fragmented sector, where from one place to another, training standards and delivery methods or timeframes are completely different. In some places, care workers have not had a pay rise for years, and not rewarded with much appreciation either.
The national recruitment campaign is a start, and hopefully a start for changes and improvements in these other areas as well. But the campaign itself seems to lack balance, creating unrealistic expectations about the realities of the job. As things stand, people should be recruited prepared to be on their feet all day, providing personal care, and dealing with challenging and sometimes aggressive behaviours. Efforts should be made to look after current care workers better and improve retention. Many care workers wish they could organise days out for their clients, but they are simply given no time for it in so many cases.
With turnover rates so high in social care already – what are the chances of retaining young people when they applied as the result of a campaign that masks the sometimes brutal reality of working in the sector as it currently stands? This includes wages: the jobs site that goes with the campaign should also include NMW jobs on the first and second page – otherwise it gives an impression that the average care worker is paid more than the national average of £7.76 (as per the Care Workers Charity).
Hard work goes hand in hand with elation, and the pride of making people smile, and helping them live fulfilling lives. Care is an extremely valuable and important profession that can break your heart and body. The strength of those who do this every day needs to be celebrated, but not sugar-coated.
In short: the campaign is a good start, and will hopefully lead to more conversations about the industry and its needs. But in itself, it will not fix the sector – which is at the breaking point. There is much work work to be done to change policy and social perspectives towards the conditions care workers deserve, and this campaign is only a drop in the ocean towards making these changes a reality.