The Health and Social Care Committee’s report on the care workforce; what is missing?
On 25th July, the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) published their report, Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care.
The report calls for the government to provide its workforce plan for the NHS and social care (promised in spring 2022 but still not yet published), and provides several practical recommendations for the plan. Refreshingly, large sections of the report focus specifically on the social care workforce; a workforce often ignored in conversations around health and care.
The report appropriately recognises the gravity of the situation facing the social care sector, stating that, in comparison to the NHS, “the situation is regrettably worse in social care”, referencing incredibly high staff vacancy and turnover rates and poor working conditions.
Key recommendations in the HSSC report regarding the social care workforce include:
- Higher baseline pay for care workers, reflecting the true value to society of the services they provide
- Sustainable strategies in terms of pay progression, professional development, and career pathways
- Contract choices offered to care workers on zero-hours contracts
- A call for the government to produce an externally validated care certificate, provided at no cost to care providers, and is transferable between care providers and the NHS
While the report makes some promising recommendations, it falls short in several areas. On 26th July, Public Policy Projects (PPP) launched its report, The Social Care Workforce: averting a crisis.
This report was based on two roundtables with PPP’s Social Care Policy Network, held in May 2022, made up of key stakeholders in the adult social care sector and a lived experience panel (comprising five individuals with first-hand experience of the social care system). While many of the conclusions and recommendations of the HSCC’s report have parallels in PPP’s report, PPP highlights further areas that the workforce plan should address.
A fairer deal for the social care workforce
The reports from HSCC and PPP are broadly aligned regarding their sentiments and recommendations around pay for care workers. It is evident that care workers must be paid more, and equivalent to, their NHS counterparts.
Both reports therefore include recommendations advocating increases to the baseline pay for care workers, to reflect the true value that care workers bring to society and reduce the number of care workers leaving for better paid jobs in retail, hospitality, or elsewhere. Both reports also agree that there must be pay progression in the care sector in line with that of the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale, providing opportunities for care workers to be paid fairly and to advance their careers.
The two reports agree that terms and conditions, as well as pay, must be improved for social care workers. They acknowledge that zero-hours contracts can provide instability for many adult social care workers, and that care workers do not tend to enjoy the same pension options, sick pay or overtime renumeration as equivalent NHS workers, nor do they receive the public admiration or ‘sweeteners’ (including NHS staff discounts offered by many businesses).
It is no secret that the social care sector is severely underfunded. In order to appropriately pay care workers, both reports agree that local authorities must be appropriately funded to provide the fair cost of care to providers, to ensure that self-funders are not subsidising the cost of workers’ wages. This will require substantial investment from government.
However, PPP’s report provides several additional recommendations for the elevation of the social care workforce. Crucially, PPP’s report focuses on the need for an elevation in the status of care work, to raise the profile of those working in care. The report notes the boost in public sentiment towards nursing that followed Florence Nightingale’s work during the Crimean war, and stresses the need for a similar shift to take place for care work. Not only would this ‘Nightingale shift’ boost staff morale, PPP’s report argues that it would help to address recruitment and retention issues, provided it is accompanied by improvements to pay and conditions.
To kickstart this ‘Nightingale shift’, PPP’s report recommends that the government should provide investment for positive advertising campaigns for social care careers, with clear messaging of the immense value of a career in care and its potential to transform lives. In conjunction with this, it recommends that care providers should be working with careers advisors in schools to promote care work to young people as an attractive and fulfilling career.
Another recommendation in PPP’s report, which was not addressed by the HSCC report, is the potential creation of cross-sector roles between health and care, as well as placements and secondments of NHS staff into social care. This would help raise the status of social care by actualising a parity of esteem between the NHS and social care workforces. It would also serve to increase the awareness and visibility of the social care system within the NHS, and aide in the integration of the workforces.
More training is not a panacea
Training was highlighted as a key area in the HSCC report. However, PPP’s Social Care Policy Network argues in the report that extra workforce training should not be conflated with the wider issues around attracting and retaining staff. PPP’s Lived Experience Panel were at pains to express that constant training and annual training renewal is often a poor use of time and resources and cannot be a substitute for meaningful sector reform.
Where PPP’s report addresses training is in their recommendation around the proposed Social Care Leaders Scheme, dubbed the ‘Teach First’ of social care. The care sector is in need of strong leadership, as registered managers are not always sufficiently prepared or trained for a job that carries substantial responsibility.
The Social Care Leaders Scheme, proposed by a steering group of leaders from the social care sector convened by the CareTech foundation, aims to attract high calibre talent to the sector by training bright university graduates for leadership roles in social care, emulating the successful Teach First model. The report calls for the government to reconsider its position on the partial funding of the scheme, which promises to elevate the sector, provide attractive careers, and improve leadership structures.
The HSCC report also focuses on mandatory Care Certificates, which should be offered, at no cost, to care providers, and are transferrable between care providers and the NHS. This is undoubtedly a sensible recommendation, and PPP’s report further recommends the establishment of a Royal College of Care Professionals. The institution of a Royal College would serve the dual purpose of professionalising the workforce and secure an elevation in its status, as well as providing a central body which can represent, support, and oversee the development of, the care workforce.
Finally, the report by the HSCC makes no mention of a vital section of the care workforce: volunteers. PPP finds that volunteers can greatly alleviate the burden on social care professionals and improve the experience of recipients of care. It is essential that volunteers are included in the workforce equation.
PPP recommends that the volunteer sector should be integrated into the workforce strategy and planning for social care, given the substantial value it provides. Further, it warns that the government must act soon to seize upon the enthusiasm for volunteering that built up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a truly comprehensive workforce plan which will truly elevate social care and reduce the immense pressure on the sector, these recommendations must, too, be incorporated. For more information on the report, please contact PPP’s Social Care Policy Analyst, Mary Brown, at firstname.lastname@example.org