Social care workforce and social justice

Published at 2 November 2020 in News and events

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West Midlands ADASS calls for a circuit breaker to re-think fairness and equality for the wider adult social care workforce.


£4.3 billion contribution to the regional economy
177,000 jobs in the adult social care sector
22% of workforce from BAME communities
84% of the workforce is female
£8.40 median hourly pay
24% of workforce on zero hours contracts

Source: Skills for Care

Only a few months ago we all stood on our doorstep cheering the work of the previously forgotten people – so-called key workers – who were courageously keeping the country running in the teeth of a global health emergency.

Chief among this hidden workforce were the people employed formally or informally in social care in the West Midlands and across the nation. With 1 in 4 of us now reported to be carers, this is very close to home.

The hard truth though is that the very people we rely on to do the hard work of looking after our most vulnerable, marginalised and forgotten people are themselves in need of care and suffering a lack of esteem, poor pay, inequality and injustice.

Our social care workforce – in which women and people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are over-represented - reflects inequality across major issues such as hourly pay, zero hour contracts, a lack of professional development, general health and raised exposure to Covid-19 risks and the demands of lockdown.

This is a moral outrage and one that puts individual care workers at risk and compromises the interests of the people and families they care for. Yet despite promises to “put an arm around” social care and its workers, and a commitment to reform, progress has stalled and now the Social Care Reform green paper has been delayed yet again, to some distant point in 2021.

We must stop this repetitive cycle of calling for reform or change and then doing nothing but talk - the country has got to do more than clap and cheer, it needs to act

Local authorities have provided leadership and action in many areas, but we can’t act alone. We need a coherent national plan, which delivers a wider programme of change that builds skills capabilities, parity of esteem and ultimately wealth for individuals, communities and the country.

The Government has been considering a circuit breaker to deal with the latest rapid increase in Covid infections as we prepare for a new phase of living with the disease.

In the same way, government, commissioners and communities need to pause and rethink not only the social care workforce challenges of pay, skills, training and the like but how the principles of social justice should be embedded in the way we manage our social care workforce.

West Midlands ADASS and its network of commissioners is calling for a social care circuit breaker and a new national workforce plan to deliver against some key themes.

We must move, though, from seeing this only as a social care reform issue, important though that is, but as an opportunity to tackle some profound and deep-seated societal issues around inequality, social mobility and the economic value of the sector. We can make a difference to inequality through how we respond to the issues in our workforce

There are three priority areas that the national pause and review could focus on and on which we want to prompt an urgent debate:

  1. Fairness – at the heart of the challenge is dealing urgently with core issues such as the prevalence of low pay in care work, an erratic approach to skills development, and the way this plays out in the unequal lives of women and black colleagues. A major step forward would be a whole-system recognition of the importance of parity of esteem, and a campaign to improve public perceptions of care work
  2. Registration – England is the only UK country that does not have a public body responsible for the regulation and registration of its entire adult social care workforce. Registration is complex and difficult, but improving professional standards would put care givers on equal footing with their NHS and social worker colleagues and parity of esteem that is so important for confidence and trust.
  3. Partnership – working within a social justice framework, how can we break away from the traditional, highly-centralised form of governance to a more devolved, locally targeted approach? Local government needs to be seen as an informed and experienced partner within a wider devolved approach.

The health of a country should be measured by how well it looks after its most vulnerable – and that includes those who provide the care we all will need.

Last updated at 4:47pm