Everyone working in the social care sector knows that without fundamental change to the way social care workers are remunerated and recognised, the sector cannot deliver the important aspirations set out in the white paper that:
- people have choice, control and independence
- people receive outstanding quality of care
- care is provided in a way that is fair and accessible to everyone who needs it
I am sorry to say the aspirations for the workforce in the white paper do not go anything far enough to achieve lasting change.
In my discussions with providers in recent weeks, there has been a common theme. No one has enough staff, everyone has recruitment gaps and are struggling to maintain services and some services are being handed back. The workforce development fund which appears to be the key plank of the white paper relating to workforce is not going to change this.
The key issue is the lack of parity of pay and esteem with the NHS. NHS employees have a clear pay structure, a career path and the expectation of a pension scheme where the pension amount is guaranteed. The most straightforward way to address this is to set a clear pay structure for social care and to ensure that all services are funded to pay in accordance with that structure. Social care provider Community Integrated Care's research #unfairtocare found that many frontline social care workers are undervalued by as much as 39% – nearly £7,000 per year – in comparison to their peers in equivalent positions in other public-funded sectors.
The white paper suggests that increases in the minimum wage will help the social care sector but fails to recognise that an increase in the national minimum wage does nothing to improve a social care employer's prospects of attracting staff when they are competing with the NHS on much better terms and employers in other sectors where higher salaries can be paid for much easier work.
So, if today's white paper is all the Government has to say on workforce, the sector needs to continue to call out this fundamental unfairness at the heart of the so-called integration of health and social care and every provider will need to make their voice heard with their local politicians, with national politicians, with commissioners and through umbrella bodies.
The government is increasing the National Living Wage by 6.6% in 2022 alone, with a commitment for it to reach two-thirds of median earnings by 2024. This will give the lowest-paid care workers a real-terms pay rise. We also want to work with commissioners and providers to make sure care workers are paid for all the hours they work, and to improve the terms and conditions of the workforce, to help ensure a sustainable future supply of care staff. This includes acknowledging the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in the sector, which can result in uncertainty around employment status and rights