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An advertising campaign designed to challenge ‘negative perceptions of care’ must be launched by the Government to stop low morale in the care sector, a cross party committee of MPs has said.
MPs, who are members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), have recommended the Department of Health and Social Care launch a PR offensive to shout about all the ‘good and excellent’ care happening in social care and attract more workers to the sector.
In the Committee’s report ‘The adult social care workforce in England’ published today (9 May), care workers were described as suffering from ‘low pay and low esteem’ causing recruitment issues for care providers.
’Low esteem’ in a sector that is ‘only in the public eye if something’s wrong’
MPs argue care workers and nurses in the social care sector are not valued in the same way as comparable roles in the health sector.
MPs stated: ‘There is not enough publicity and public recognition of how social care can transform people’s lives for the better, how many people working in care find it very rewarding, or that more than 80 per cent of care services are rated good or excellent by the Care Quality Commission.
‘Instead, care services are usually only in the public eye if something has gone wrong.’
Skills for Care, the Department’s delivery partner for workforce development in the care sector, is developing a national recruitment campaign to address negative views related to care work.
The Committee has recommended the Department and Skills for Care confirm when they will run a national campaign to promote care and ‘ensure it is ambitious in scale and scope, seek to change the public narrative around care from overwhelmingly negative to positive’.
MPs said they ‘share the frustration’ of Skills for Care, with low pay often translating to mean low skill even though MPs stressed ‘care work is not low skilled’.
Skills for Care receives £23.5 million per year from the Department, but this contrasts with the ‘much greater' amount Health Education England receives to support the health sector.
‘Unregulated professions’ in care sector
MPs also called on the Department of Health and Social Care to professionalise the care sector. With the majority of people working in social care belonging to ‘unregulated professions’, MPs said the care sector does not have comparable regulation to, for example, the health sector or the construction sector, to mandate skills training.
The report stated: ‘A highly skilled, knowledgeable, qualified and competent workforce leads to higher quality care.’
MPs found two-thirds of people working as care workers, who provide direct support to people with care needs, have attained the Care Certificate—a basic level of skill and competence — but this is not mandatory.
As a result, the Committee has urged the Government to fund Skills for Care to support the care workforce’s training and development and it has recommended that in the forthcoming workforce strategy the Department set out how it will professionalise the care workforce and consider a mandatory minimum standard for training.
The Brexit effect
The report draws on evidence from the Department of Health & Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Skills for Care and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.
MPs stated: ‘The Department told us that, to date, there has not been a decline in the number of people from the EU working in care.’
The Committee also recommended the Government ‘understand the impact the UK’s departure from the EU and future immigration policy, could have on the care workforce’ at the national and local levels and have plans in place to address workforce shortages.
’No understanding’ of how well authorities commission care
The Committee stated ‘clear and obvious signs’ of significant financial stress in the sector exist with levels of unmet need high and rising. Only 27 per cent of councils have arrangements in place to monitor unmet need. Despite the Department’s Care Act guidance advising local authorities to consider the care sector’s own benchmark cost for commissioning homecare, over four-fifths of local authorities are paying below this rate.
The report also stated: ‘People who pay for their own care home placements are subsidising placements for people who receive local authority-funded care’.
Two-thirds of care providers’ income comes from taxpayers via local authorities but the Committee said the Government has no means of understanding how well local authorities commission care. MPs found the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports on how well care providers deliver care, but it does not routinely inspect local authorities’ commissioning.
The Committee’s report stated: ‘The Department argues that it has few levers to influence the provision of social care, but acknowledges it could use its existing powers more effectively’.
In light of this, the Department has been told it must within two months explain to the Committee how it will: find out how well all local authorities are commissioning care, improve its role overseeing the social care market and ensure the CQC is resourced to carry out further work.
MPs: Government ‘underestimates’ scale of Green Paper challenge
With the Government’s social care Green Paper yet to be unveiled, MPs warned: ‘Given the pressures on the sector, we are concerned that the Department sees the Green Paper as a cure all and underestimates the scale of the challenge.’
They said the Green Paper must not be the start of ‘yet another protracted debate’ about future care funding.
The Department has been urged to ‘establish quickly’ the funding local authorities need to commission care at fair prices and 'publish a credible plan by the end of 2018 and implement it swiftly'.