Tuesday, 3 January 2012

It's not just about who pays for Social Care but How We Talk About It

                Politicians of all parties have a tendency to view social care as a matter of cost. The endless consultations we have had over the past few years have focused on how social care is paid for and who should pay for it.

Yet it is not just a matter of cost but of how society views its provision care and support for those who need it.

To really improve the social care system society first needs to start changing the discourse of social care. Public views and opinions are always based on the way politicians and the media talk about different issues and social care is no exception. Those who have no contact with the social care system could be forgiven for thinking that social care is delivered in a completely haphazard manner, leaving all those who need it at risk and that care and support is delivered by individuals who are completely incompetent or, worse, evil people who prey on the vulnerable.

This view is very far from the truth yet it is a persistent cloud that covers the areas where social care shines and it is this cloud which needs to be blown away before we can make any real progress in improving social care.

Firstly we need to tackle the image of working in social care.

Social care workers are low paid, work unsociable hours and receive little reward for the work they do – yet they do it. But the entire workforce is often told it needs to ‘professionalise’.

Imagine the effect on any workforce that is constantly bombarded with the implication that they are unprofessional. Think of the impact on staff morale and performance. If you were to hear that phrase used about you, how would you feel?

To add to that there is the constant comparison of social care workers to the retail sector in terms of wages and conditions. Yet how can the two types of work be realistically compared? In truth the closet comparison would be to that of Healthcare Assistants in the NHS but that, perhaps, would raise to many questions in relation to pay and conditions.

The portrayal of social care workers as unprofessional and low paid naturally has an impact on recruitment and retention in the sector. What incentive do younger people have to enter social care other than as a last resort job?

Pay and conditions are not going to change overnight, the way the system works at present means that many care providers are small businesses who do not have the funds to improve wages without making cuts in other areas of care provision or, and lets be blunt, cuts in their profits but it is time to really start talking up social care workers and making realistic comparisons about the work they do.

Politicians also need to tackle the perception of haphazardly delivered care, yes there is a postcode lottery where care and support provision depends on the Local Authority that delivers it but are those services so significantly different from one area to another? If so, then surely we need Government intervention, to discover why and to take action to rectify this and to be seen to do so publicly. Too often, in recent years, there has been a tendency for Government to brush of social care delivery as the responsibility of local authorities yet, in truth, social care is still funded by central government and they should take responsibility for it.

Perhaps the hardest issue to tackle is that of the risk of abuse. We need to be constantly vigilant in the fight against adult abuse but the public also needs to be informed of the reality of vulnerable adults and abuse. Abuse is not limited to social care workers, in fact in home care abuse is far more likely to be committed by family members than by care workers but it is where a care worker has committed abuse that is far more likely to hit the headlines.  In many cases it is the social care worker who identifies and reports abuse committed by others yet such work goes unreported.

How social care is viewed depends on how social care is talked about and it should now be time to start talking about social care openly and honestly, identifying the real issues, talking about them and taking action to deal with them.