Peterborough MP: Time to value workers in social care

Many of my constituents work in social care. This profession is just as important as our NHS in helping to support our community. Those working in care homes and in the community across our city should know they are valued, just as we value our hard-working doctors and nurses, writes Peterborough MP Paul Bristow.
Social care of a senior woman at home. Picture: Adobe Stock YPN-190417-163413062Social care of a senior woman at home. Picture: Adobe Stock YPN-190417-163413062
Social care of a senior woman at home. Picture: Adobe Stock YPN-190417-163413062

Let me declare a couple of interests. Until the election, I owned a communications consultancy that works in health and social care. My wife works for the same company and both my parents were nurses. My dad managed nursing homes until he retired, while my mum was a Deputy Sister in a residential home, caring for people with dementia.

I know how hard those staff in care homes work each day. It’s often a job that goes without much reward. Pay can be low and recognition is often lacking. But it is crucial.

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The National Audit Office estimates that 1.3 million people do these jobs. Another group, the Centre for Workforce Intelligence, have suggested that an extra 660,000 care workers will be needed by 2035, if we are to keep pace with the demand for care. When you consider that more than a third of staff switch jobs, or move out of the sector each year, you can begin to see the challenge.

These are worrying figures for Peterborough families who rely on this service. So why do we have a problem recruiting and retaining social care staff?

Pay is clearly a factor, but not the only one. Too often the profession is held in low esteem, which makes it difficult for some providers to recruit and retain staff. The prestige of roles in care – for example, care workers and nurses – is a lot lower than for their counterparts in the NHS.

Yet, we still use terms like “low-skilled worker” in relation to care staff. This language and perception needs to be challenged. We need greater emphasis on professional structures, career development, and appropriate reward.

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We also need to celebrate these roles and show how rewarding and fulfilling they can be. After all, this is about looking after people. Those people are our grandparents, our fathers and mothers, our uncles and aunts, and in some cases our children. One day, they are likely to be looking after us. Given the wide readership of this paper, they may already be looking after you.

It takes a people person – and if you’re a people person, it gives back. I will never forget a constituent telling me about their job in social care. He said that every day he got to talk and listen to people who became his friends. “I felt I was cheating by calling it work.”

Don’t get me wrong. Social care is hard, sometimes literally requiring heavy lifting and often involving emotional distress. Yet it’s also a career that can be rewarding.

Rightly, politicians talk about our hardworking doctors and nurses. When I use that phrase in future, I will remember to add social care workers. We can demonstrate our thanks in small ways, and in large ones. I hope that in Peterborough, at least, we will stop viewing care work as a ‘minimum wage’ job that shouldn’t be valued.

We have great people working in the sector and our city needs them.

Do you support my campaign for parity of esteem for social care workers - email me on [email protected]