Viewpoint: Valuing care workers as professionals, Alan Long of Mears

We all need to recognise that care workers are much more than just what the job title might suggest. They are Health and Well-being Professionals. Health and Well-Being Professionals, who are the front line in terms of preventing escalating NHS demands and costs.

Sadly this critical role is not recognised by society. Compared to people working in the NHS, such as nurses and doctors; care workers are hugely undervalued. How have we allowed this to happen?

There is little positive publicity about the work done by care workers, but scarcely a day goes by without a care worker being heavily criticised when something has gone wrong. Of course we must be critical of poor practice but we must also address the root causes behind a system that is so broken, poor practice is frankly more than likely to happen.

The root causes of this broken system are highlighted in Key to Care the report of the Burstow Commission that launched on Tuesday. Poor commissioning, with many local authorities setting hourly rates for care, well below a level that would enable minimum wage to be paid let alone living wage. Poor terms and conditions for staff, a complete lack of career path and opportunities for career progression and that fundamental issue that people working in the sector are so undervalued.

Everyone can have a role in putting this right by recognising and celebrating the vital contribution made by England’s 685,000 care workers.  George Osborne used his Autumn Statement to announce £2billion more for the NHS. As the NHS already has a budget exceeding £100 billion I cannot help but think that this will be a drop in the ocean. Contrast this with domiciliary care where the total spend by local authorities in England is under £3 billion. Imagine the difference even half this money could make to social care if it was spent improving the terms and conditions of care workers. In one go, we could pay a living wage, and it would take us a long way towards getting a valued workforce, capable of delivering quality care that would in turn be able to slow or even prevent the escalation of need therefore reducing the growing pressures on the NHS.

Surely this is in everyone’s interest?

England, UK . 2.12. 2014. London . LGiU. Launch of Key to Care report.

Alan Long (far right) with Mears care professionals and Paul Burstow, MP (centre) at the Key to Care launch

Alan Long is Executive Director at Mears Group. Mears supported the Burstow Commission on the Future of the Home Care Workforce which published Key to Care on Tuesday 2 December 2014