Leaders of the Five Nations Care Forum met in London on 4th and 5th October 2021, for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The care workforce was the topic of discussion and leaders reflected on the invaluable role of our care workforce, in making a positive difference to the lives of others and on their vital contribution to economic growth.
Throughout the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, care workers kept going, focusing relentlessly on the safety and wellbeing of others.
Now, the Five Nations Care Forum leaders said there is a requirement for Governments to engage with this vital healthcare workforce to ensure they are positioned to focus relentlessly on investing in them.
In Scotland and Wales, care workers have each been given bonuses of £500 or more in recognition of their outstanding commitment during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Northern Ireland, there is a commitment to do the same. Leaders of the Five Nations Care Forum said ‘The Governments of England and the Republic of Ireland have declined to acknowledge the exceptional contribution of the care workforce. Whilst the bonuses have been very much appreciated by care workers, one-off payments of this nature do not solve underlying issues.’
News of the Scottish Government’s announcement on 5th October 2021 that wages of care workers in Scotland will rise from £9.50 per hour to £10.02 per hour, equivalent to Band 2 healthcare assistants in the NHS, was warmly welcomed and heralded as a lead other Governments in the UK and Ireland should follow.
A recommendation by the Low Pay Commission to increase the UK’s national legal minimum wage to £9.42 per hour, which will likely be accepted by Government, is another step in the right direction for UK healthcare providers. However, social care leaders said that care worker roles are far more than minimum wage jobs and we need to go further to attract, retain and develop a talent pool for the future. Irish representatives emphasised the critical requirement to review pay levels in the sector.
The Five Nations Care Forum calls on the Governments of the UK and Ireland to:
- Fund social care adequately so that care workers are paid fairly for the skilled roles they perform, and at least on a par with equivalent public sector roles.
- Support development of an expert-led workforce strategy for social care and a 10-year workforce plan, aligned with the NHS People Plan in the UK. In Ireland, the Government’s Health Service Capacity Review and ESRI projections emphasise the urgent need for stakeholders to bring together a workforce strategy, with shortages in homecare workers already manifesting across the country. The Government must also publish the terms of reference for the Social Care Workforce Advisory Group announced by Minister Butler at the HCCI conference last week.
- Recognise current national needs and regional variation in demography and workforce and explore placing social care on the Shortage Occupation List.
- Create a professional register for care workers in England, in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Registration of care workers needs to be adequately funded and carefully implemented. In Ireland, regulation of homecare must remain a Government priority and bring better State resourcing for homecare workers.
A recent analysis by the Health Foundation suggests we need over 600,000 additional care workers in the UK in the next decade to meet needs, on top of the 1.5 million we already have. Over 20,000 healthcare assistants alone will be required to meet the demand for services in Ireland in the next ten years.
The Five Nations Care Forum said that as a society, we must recognise and fairly reward the enhanced skills and experience required by care workers to support highly dependent older and disabled people with complex health and social needs.
Visit the Five Nations Care Forum website to find out more information.
In other news, Adult social care contributes at least £50.3bn to the economy in England and provides significant societal benefits, according to a new report by Skills for Care.